Czech trades unions held their first major protest against pay cuts being introduced by the centre-right coalition government on Tuesday. Police estimated participation at around 40,000. Organisers said they reckoned it was around 45,000. They had originally counted on around 20,000 union members from around the country would take part in the demonstration which got underway in Prague just before noon. Among those taking part were police officers, fire fighters and health workers.
The unions are opposed to a planned 10-percent overall reduction in the operating costs of ministries and the state sector next year. Wage costs are expected to be cut by 10 percent as part of those savings with a choice between cuts in jobs or cuts in salaries. The state sector would also cut capital investments by 5.0 percent. The recently appointed government of Prime Minister Petr Nečas aims to balance the Czech state budget by 2016. Among its priorities are reform of the country’s pension, health and third level education systems.
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Jaromír Drábek, said the demonstration by the unions was a direct result of their refusal to negotiate any changes. He said they stuck to their position that there was no need to change the status quo and also accused them of distorting the government’s saving plans. Mr. Drábek insisted that the 10 percent cut in state wage costs was a fundamental pillar of the government programme. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said the government would not be diverted from that overall target but was prepared to negotiate with the unions on details of the cost cutting.
President Václav Klaus also intervened against the demonstration by unions. The president said that the planned cuts by the government were unavoidable and the same measures were taking place across the world. They were, he said, the result of the long running irresponsible policy of politicians in spending more money than they received in revenues. He said the strike would change nothing and added that budget cuts were much more brutal in many European countries than in the Czech Republic.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Tuesday that he wanted to put a constitutional change calling for government’s to balance their budgets to be put before parliament next year. A vote in support could allow it to take effect from the start of 2012, he added. The change formed one of he main election goals of the Civic Democrats at May’s elections. Even with the backing of the two other government coalition parties, the constitutional amendment would require support from the left-wing Social Democrats and Communists. The prime minister said he thought backing from ‘responsible’ members of parliament could be found from these parties.
The Czech ambassador to the European Union says that there are no reasons for strong hopes that Canada will lift its visa requirement for Czech citizens soon. Milena Vicenová made the comments in an interview with the business daily, E15. She said that the European Commission was preparing a report setting out its stand if Canada did not change its stand. Prague had a simple stance that visas be lifted or the EU take retaliatory steps such as imposing visas on Canadians, she said. Canada reimposed visas on Czechs in July 2009 following a wave of asylum applications, many of them from Roma. It has said it might drop the demand but only after its generous asylum policies are amended and that could take several years.
Former president Václav Havel has called for the Nobel peace prize to be awarded to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. In a letter to the New York Times, co-signed by former Czechoslovak dissidents Dana Nemcová and Václav Malý, Havel drew parallels between the challenge to Czechoslovak Communism presented by Charter 77 and the Charter 08 spearheaded by Liu and signed by 300 Chinese human rights activists. Liu was sentenced to 10 years in prison after the action. Mr. Havel said that Liu should be recognized for his 20 years struggle for peaceful reform.
Around 1,650 MW of solar power capacity could come on line in the Czech Republic by the end of the year according to head of renewables at the Ministry of Industry and Trade. That total is approaches the current capacity of the Temelín nuclear power plant. Mr Pavel Gebauer said at a conference on Tuesday that this represented a pessimistic scenario of developments. Deputy head of the state-controlled high voltage grid network operator ČEPS, Petr Zeman, said 1,650 MW capacity was the maximum limit it had set until 2012 for all renewables, including both wind power and solar, if they grid was to remain stable and secure. The government last week took fresh steps to curb the ongoing solar power boom in the country.
Czech eighth grade pupils of around 14 years old support minority rights and are interested in the environment but are less likely to be involved in public activities according to an international comparison. The survey of 4,600 Czech pupils was carried out in 144 schools last year as part of the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study. Compared with pupils surveyed from another 37 countries, Czechs scored well on support for equal rights and environmental protection but lower than average on active participation. For example, 60 percent said they would vote in national elections but that figure dropped to 38 percent for European elections.
Police are investigating after a worker died after being buried by debris during road construction and repairs in the central town of Kladno on Tuesday. A second worker at the site was released after being temporarily trapped. Police say criminal charges could follow the accident and are seeking to establish whether safety rules were broken.
Sparta Prague came back from behind to win the derby game against Slavia on Monday night. Hosts Slavia took the lead on 22 minutes through Petr Trapp. Sparta come back soon after half time with a similar goal stemming from a free kick. They took the lead in the 89th minute through striker Bony Wilfried. Sparta trail league leaders Plzeň by seven points in third place with Slavia mid-table in ninth.
The current sunny spell should continue into the week with daytime highs ranging between 17 and 21 degrees Celsius. Ground frost can be expected in places.