The Czech Republic is gearing up for a 24-hour transport strike over government reforms. The strike, called by the country’s trade unions, will begin at midnight Wednesday and will affect rail services throughout the Czech Republic, as well as tram and bus transport in the big cities predominantly Prague, Brno and Ostrava. Trade unions say Prague’s metro will be brought to a standstill for nearly 30 hours and traffic jams are expected in connection with planned road blockades of crucial nodes in the capital. Flights should not be affected by the protest. The strike action is in protest of pensions, health care and tax reforms planned by the centre-right government. The cabinet has said it is willing to negotiate, but trade unions insist that the concessions offered are inadequate.
Trade unions have planned a protest march through the city on Thursday. Protesters are to gather outside the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry on Palacky Square, proceed to the Health Ministry, the Finance Ministry and conclude their protest at Prague Castle. President Klaus has strongly condemned the strike saying striking workers should be sacked.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas and Interior Minister Jan Kubice are both expected to attend Wednesday’s crisis committee meeting at Prague City Hall. The meeting is planned for 2pm and will revolve around measures aimed at mitigating the impact of Thursday’s strike. Interior Minister Jan Kubice warned earlier that blockades would not be tolerated as a form of protest and that police would be out in force to maintain order. Prime Minister Nečas said on Tuesday that the government was putting 150 defence ministry buses and minibuses at the town hall’s disposal. Czech Railways has said it plans to rent another 200 busses to cover vital transport lines.
Trade union representatives and Prague City Transport officials on Tuesday agreed on the observance of certain principles which would guarantee public safety and prevent damage to property. Trade unions have promised to bring all vehicles –be it trams busses or metro cars - to the depot on Wednesday night and said they would not try to prevent strike breakers or management-hired replacements from manning them. Privately run bus lines in and around Prague will remain in operation.
A group of young people on Facebook have organized their own protest action against the trade union strike saying they plan to board the last metro on Wednesday night and refuse to leave it. The organizers have called on sympathizers to bring refreshments and musical instruments and prepare to spend the night. The protest group says trade unions have no right to curtail what for many is a prepaid service in the interest of a certain segment of the population.
Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka on Tuesday called for a broad agreement on early elections at the earliest possible date, saying the government was fuelling social tension and was unable to cope with the situation. He accused the government of pushing through socially unjust reforms and riding roughshod over any opposition to the proposed bills, saying there had been no dialogue and no debate on reforms that would affect the lives of generations of Czechs.
On a visit to the Šumava National Park on Tuesday President Vaclav Klaus expressed full support for the park management’s radical policy in fighting bark-beetle infestation in the protected nature reserve. The president said that the cautious policy of the former management and the Environment Ministry would have resulted in severe devastation of the region’s pine forests. The park’s present management, headed by former prime minister Jan Strásky, has come under fire from environmental activists and academicians for employing logging and harsh anti-insecticides to curb the spread of bark-beetle infestation.
Czech towns and cities will in future be able to regulate the number of gaming machines on their premises by issuing special directives. Up until now it was the Finance Ministry which issued licenses making it difficult for the local authorities to clamp down on gambling. The Constitutional Court on Tuesday upheld a complaint by the town of Chrastava which has long fought to have a decisive say in the matter.
The Czech banking sector as a whole is resilient to potential risks and its stability would not be endangered even in the event of highly unfavourable development, according to the results of stress tests conducted by the Czech National Bank. The report says however that in such a case, some institutions would suffer losses that could require capital injections from shareholders. Insurance companies are in a similar situation as banks. They have a high capital cushion and the ability to generate yields even under unfavourable circumstances.
The number of companies planning to recruit people in the third quarter is double the number of those which have signalled layoffs, according to a poll conducted by Manpower Index. Out of 750 Czech companies polled six percent of them said they were planning to recruit employees, three percent said they would have to affect lay-offs and over 90 percent said their work-force would remain unchanged. Manpower says it has registered a marked improvement in all spheres with the exception of the public sector which is having to affect cost-cutting measures across the board.
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