Unemployment in the Czech Republic remained flat at 9.9 percent of the workforce in June, the Czech Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs said on Monday. Most analysts had predicted a slight rise compared to May to 10 percent. Economists attribute the flat rate to a fall in the number of school leavers this year and the availability of seasonal work.
Just before eight o'clock on Monday morning, passengers on some public transport buses in Prague could hear the drivers talking to the control centre for longer than usual. They drivers were making last minute confirmations with the control centre whether or not they were going to take part in a planned 20-minute strike during the morning rush-hour.
The Czech cabinet has approved draft legislation which abolishes thirteenth and fourteenth month salaries, a form of bonus given to civil servants in the summer and at the end of the year. Instead, the draft proposes to replace the two extra salaries with only 20% of one monthly wage, divided among the twelve salaries in the year. The cabinet also decided to deprive judges, MPs, ministers, and state representatives, of their fourteenth month salary as early as this year. Both draft laws are yet to be approved by parliament and signed by the president. Civil service unions, who oppose the draft, have said they are confident the proposed legislation would not make it through parliament.
The Labour and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach has said he would resign if he fails to push through higher pensions and family benefits for next year. Under a coalition agreement pensions should grow by 500 to 600 crowns and benefits for families with children should also increase by several hundred crowns. Altogether the higher pensions and benefits should cost the state an additional 13 to 14 billion crowns. According to minister Skromach the state can afford it since state budget revenues are growing.
On Thursday the Czech Senate approved a government bill aimed at both lowering unemployment numbers but also improving benefits for those unable to find long-term work. On the one hand the bill, which was approved by 38 out of 70 senators present, will make it difficult for recipients to receive benefits if they refuse, for example, re-qualification training or a medical exam to which they had previously agreed. At the same time, under the new bill, those on unemployment will be allowed to earn up to half the minimum wage without losing unemployment benefits.
Delegates from the UNIOS group of unions representing the gas industry and communal services have released a statement saying the government should scrap the system of civil servants' so-called 13th and 14th month bonus salaries in favour of raising workers' basic monthly wages. UNIOS chairman Karel Sladkovsky made the announcement on Saturday shortly after union representatives completed a meeting in Prague. Earlier in the week more than 200, 000 civil servants went on strike in the Czech Republic in protest of the government's decision to pay them only 10 percent, instead of the usual 50 percent of the 13th month bonus. Mr Sladkovsky criticised the government's plan to implement a new 16 point wage scale without, in his words, "knowing what to do next". Some 750, 000 work in the public sector, with roughly 450, 000 receiving salaries from the state budget.
The Czech National Bank has called on the government to step up its efforts in cutting the country's growing debt to avoid future crisis. The government has once again postponed a final decision on a new bill on property declarations. The Finance Ministry expects the 2004 budget gap to drop below 6 percent of GDP. The Prague Stock Exchange is to experience the first IPO since it was established 14 years ago. A government commission has recommended 25 projects for the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. The Czech National Bank has reported an increased
Tens of thousands of civil servants staged a one-hour protest strike Wednesday over cuts in their salary bonuses, with Czech unions estimating more than 200, 000 civil servants took part. Workers are angry over the government's decision to pay them only 10 percent, instead of the usual 50 percent, of the so-called 13th month bonus. State workers, and some private sector employees, in the Czech Republic have traditionally received two bonuses each year equal to a half of a month's wages, known as 13th and 14th pay. On Wednesday hospitals, schools, libraries and museums joined the protest by keeping their doors closed one hour later than usual. Alena Vondrova, chairwoman of the Union of Public Sector Employees told news agencies that the strike showed the government public civil servants would not accept the cuts in silence.
Czech civil servants went on strike on Wednesday morning for just one hour. All-out strikes are almost unheard of in the Czech Republic, where dissatisfied workers sometimes go on "strike alert", basically a warning that they might think about striking if employers don't meet their demands. But why are Czech workers so reluctant to take stronger action? Commentator Vaclav Zak says it's largely because there is no tradition of striking in this country
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