If you’d stopped a Czech citizen on the street twenty years ago and told him he was free to live and work in Austria or Germany, he would have looked at you in amazement. But on May 1st, that’s exactly what happened - the two countries lifted their final restrictions on Czech workers - and what’s truly amazing is that it’s happened with an almost total absence of fanfare, or even coverage in the media. Equally amazing, perhaps, is that hardly any Czechs will take advantage of it.
Czech trade union leaders walked out of a meeting with government officials and employers on Thursday, and said a mass rally would be held in Prague in late May in protest against the planned government reforms. Referring to the recent government crisis, the head of the trade unions’ association, Jaroslav Zavadil said the cabinet had lost the right to carry out reforms, which he described as anti-social. Trade unions are therefore planning a rally in Prague to protest the government’s reform agenda. Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek said the reforms were inevitable, while the minister of industry and trade, Martin Kocourek, accused the unions of trying to grab political power rather than defend the interests of employees.
Trade unions in Česká rafinérská, the country’s largest oil refinery firm, said on Monday they would consider going on strike after salary negotiations with company management have failed. Negotiations will now continue through mediators. Česká rafinérská, which operates refineries in Litvínov and Kralupy nad Vltavou, has around 640 employees, half of which are members of trade unions. The company’s largest shareholders are Unipetrol, Royal Dutch Shell and Eni.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic fell to 9.2 percent in March from 9.6 percent in February, the second monthly improvement in a row, official data just released has shown. Employment offices registered 525,500 job seekers in March, down 21,757 from February and 30,804 fewer than in March 2010. Specialists stress that unemployment improved due to seasonal factors as sectors such as construction, farming and some services have begun hiring. The unemployment rate has been hovering around the 9.0-percent level since the end of 2009. In March 2010, it stood at 9.7 percent.
Police trades unions leaders are set to meet Prime Minister Petr Nečas later on Tuesday to ask him to replace Interior Minister Radek John. More than a half of Czech police officers, along with thousands of fire fighters and civilian security forces employees, have signed a petition demanding Mr John’s resignation. They blame the minister for failing to prevent higher cuts in their salaries than he initially promised.
More than 26,000 officers out of the 43,000-strong police force have singed a petition calling on the country’s interior minister, Radek John, to step down, police trade unions said on Monday. Around 4,500 fire fighters and civilian employees of the police force also signed the petition; the signatories blame Mr John for a bigger drop in their salaries than originally planned. In January, salaries in the police force were expected to decrease by 10 percent as a result of the government’s austerity package; however, the unions claim the decrease was bigger. Interior Minister Radek John said an average salary in the force only decreased by 7.7 percent. Police trades union leaders are set to hand the petition to Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Tuesday.
Trade unions have launched a campaign against the government’s pension, tax and heath care reform plans. The confederation of trade unions says the aim of the Open Your Eyes campaign, for which some 80 billboards have gone up, is to convince the government to revise the reforms to be “logical and justifiable”. Main complaints include the transfer of workers’ pension deductions from the state pension system to private savings funds, higher medical payments and tax reform, including VAT, which the unions say will increase the public finance debt by 80 billion annually. Organisers say they are also prepared to call for a general strike.
The head of the independent unions association, Bohumir Dufek, has warned the unions are weighing the possibility of a general strike in response to the government’s tax reforms planned for 2013. The Finance Ministry announced proposed changes, which have yet to be debated by members of the coalition government and specialists, on Friday. Ideas proposed include the abolition of the “supergross” tax wage, unifying the income and corporate tax rates at 19 percent, and slashing a high number of exemptions including that of interest from home mortgages. Unions head Dufek warned that the government could not ‘endlessly experiment on employee taxes’ and expect no response. The Finance Ministry has argued the proposals will lower the current tax burden for employees, but some experts have estimated that most tax payers would not see a major improvement.
Czech men earn on average 13 percent higher salaries than women in the same positions, according to a poll by the website platy.cz released on Wednesday. The poll also found that differences between men’s and women’s salaries increase with age; in the age group of 17 to 24 year olds, men make 11 percent more than women while the difference is nearly 20 percent in the age group between 35 and 44-year-olds. The gap between men’s and women’s salaries in the Czech Republic has been criticized by a number of NGOs; last year a report by the OECD said the gap was wider than in most developed countries.
Forgotten Czech net bag makes a comeback
Czechs and Germans in 1930s Czechoslovakia: a complex picture
Wide range of events in store for Czechs this weekend as 30-year anniversary of Velvet Revolution reaches climax
Škoda unveils 4th-generation Octavia ahead of model’s 60th anniversary
15 years later – was ending military service right move for Czech Republic?