The Czech Labour Office has been cleared to take on around 600 new staff by the end of the year. Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Michaela Marksová has said many of the new staff will be directed to make sure that increasing social welfare payments are not being abused. State spending on emergency welfare payments rose by around a third last year to total more than 10 billion crowns. The ministry estimates that the extra checks could results in 5-10 percent savings on the budgets of some welfare payments.
An audit at government ministries run by the Social Democrats has discovered suspicious deals worth around two billion crowns, Prime Minister and Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka told a news conference on Friday. Around half of the potentially wasted funds is related to several problematic IT deals of the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry. Mr Sobotka said the situation in the state administration was worse than expected, and blamed the problems on past Czech governments. The prime minister and his team has reviewed four ministries controlled by the Social Democrats; Mr Sobotka said that audits would continue. A review of six ministries controlled by the ANO party earlier this year found suspicious deals worth 16 billion crowns.
Czech trade unions have threatened to stage protests if public employees are not granted a 3.5 percent pay rise next year. The Czech centre-left government has promised to increase salaries in the public sector by 3.5 percent in 2015 but union leaders say the rise is not planned for all public workers. The head of the Czech trade union association, Josef Středula, said they would raise the issue with government officials by the end of July and in early September when draft state budget for next year is to be finalized. If their demands are not met, they are ready to launch protests in the following months, Mr Středula said.
The Czech unemployment rate slipped by 0.1 of a percentage point to 7.4 percent in June, the national labour office announced on Tuesday. The overall total of those without work still stands above half a million at just over 537,000. The latest fall is said to be largely due to recruitment for summer jobs and the ongoing recovery in the economy. The unemployment total has been dropping consistently since January.
Minister for human rights, equal rights and legislation Jiří Dienstbier is due in Brussels Monday to try and win European Commission support for Czech proposals on a new civil service law. The Commission has said that billions of crowns in EU funding depends on whether the Czech Republic implements an acceptable framework for an independent and professional civil service. It is the last country in the EU to have put such a framework in place. The government has put its proposal to parliament with most of the provisions set to take effect from 2016. However, the Commission is said to be concerned that some of the measures will not be in force until a year later in 2017. Amongst others, Dienstbier is due to meet Social Affairs Laslo Andor with an overall agreement on how to use social and investment funds up till 2020 one of the issues.
A leading Czech scientist has created uproar with an article in a journal suggesting that pregnant mothers who expected their babies would have severe disabilities should undergo abortions. Miroslav Mitlöhner has in the aftermath of the article resigned as director of a university institution and member of an advisory council at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Mitlöhner in an interview said afterwards that some of the comments attributed to him were quotations from other authors but stood by the overall contents of his article.
Finance Minister Andrej Babiš has reached agreement with trade unions on maintaining their tax breaks. An income tax bill pushed through by a previous finance minister, Miroslav Kalousek, was to have done way with tax exemptions for unions from the start of next year. That provision will now be dropped, the head of the Bohemian-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, Josef Středula, said after talks with Mr. Babiš. Benefits such as staff public travel passes and rewards for long-term service in the police or army will also now remain untouched by the changes to income tax legislation.
The country’s health and social care unions are pushing for a pay increase next year of five percent, rejecting the 3.5 percent promised by the government. At a press conference Wednesday, union representatives pointed to the low wages earned by those who care for the elderly or disabled, warning of a worsening of quality. Union leader Dagmar Žitníková charged that long term the situation had only grown worse, saying that jobs in the social services were among the most poorly paid. According to Žitníková, government cuts, higher VAT and the weakening of the Czech crown had all affected the sector negatively.
Unemployment in Prague dipped by a tenth of a percentage point to 5.3 percent in May, according to data released by the Czech Labor Office on Monday. Over 44,000 people in Prague are currently looking for work, aged between 18 and 64 years old. This translates into seven applicants per job. Prague traditionally has the lowest unemployment rate in the country. The highest unemployment rate –at 11 percent -is reported in north Bohemia.
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