Public sector workers in the Czech Republic held a one-day strike against government plans to cut their salaries next year. Trades union leaders said nearly 150,000 state employees took part in the industrial action. Many schools around the country were closed for the day, while hospitals operated a weekend service. Protest gatherings were also held in Prague and other cities and towns. The right-of-centre coalition plans to cut the total amount paid to public sector workers by 10 percent, and make other changes to the pay system. Prime Minister Petr Nečas accused the unions of playing politics and pointed out that the majority of state employees had not taken part in the strike.
Prime Minister Nečas has threatened to resign if the coalition government approves a huge tender to clean up environmental damage from the communist era, Lidové noviny reported on Wednesday. Mr Nečas signalled that intention to the leadership of his party the Civic Democrats, but neither he nor other senior members would confirm it, the newspaper said. It reported that the prime minister believes so many doubts have been raised about the tender it could damage the government’s credibility, even if no corruption takes place.
The European Union’s human rights agency has accused the Czech authorities of homophobia over a test for refugees who claim asylum on the grounds they face persecution in their own country for being homosexual, the Czech News Agency reported on Wednesday. The EU says the test – which involves measuring blood flow in the penis during sexual arousal – breaches its charter banning torture and humiliating treatment. The Czech ministry of the interior confirmed it does use so-called phallometry testing, if officials believe asylum applicants have given inconsistent testimonies during interviews. It said the tests had been carried out with the consent of asylum seekers.
President Václav Klaus says Czech firms should rely less on Western European countries as a market for their exports and try to increase sales elsewhere. Speaking in Prague on Wednesday, Mr Klaus said it is fortunate that there is still demand for exports, which are important to a small open economy like that of the Czech Republic. Around 85 percent of Czech exports go to other EU states, which is above the average for the bloc of 67 percent.
The unemployment rate in the Czech Republic rose to 8.6 percent in November, the labour ministry said on Wednesday. That represents an increase of 0.1 percent on the previous month, while the number of Czechs out of work rose to just above the half a million mark. November was the fourth month in a row that the number of jobs advertised on the Czech market fell, and analysts warn the situation is likely to get worse.
The writer and translator Heda Margolius Kovály has died in Prague at the age of 91. Her experiences of surviving the Nazi death camps and seeing her first husband Rudolf Margolius executed by the Communists following the Slánský show trial were captured in the book Under a Cruel Star. After leaving Czechoslovakia in 1968 Margolius Kovály settled in the United States. Her son Ivan Margolius has written extensively on Czech architecture and design.
Melting snow caused the interruption of services on the C line of the Prague metro system for over four hours on Wednesday. Buses were used to ferry passengers between the Florenc and Pražského povstání stations after water leaked into the tunnel in the Nusle bridge, which connects the centre to the large Prague 4 district. The poor technical state of the construction was also blamed for the problem.
Snow and icicles falling from roofs have caused complications in Prague, with around 70 people reporting that their cars had been damaged between midnight and mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Over 100 cars have suffered damage in the capital in the last two days, with some of them completely written off, police said. Police officers have also been using tape to cordon off parts of streets in the city which are particularly dangerous.
Czech police on Tuesday night arrested a foreign citizen who drove 30 kilometres in the wrong direction on a stretch of motorway near Vyškov in Moravia. A police spokesperson said the driver had caused great danger to other motorists, who were forced to slow down to avoid him. The man, who was not found to be under the influence, said he had been confused by the Czech road signs.
The country’s trade unions have said that 100,000 public sector
employees will take part in Wednesday’s day-long strike protesting a 10
percent cut by the government in next year’s budget. Union
representatives have warned that the cuts, hand-in-hand with an amendment
to the Labour Code, will heavily impact public sector salaries.
Speaking at a meeting of the umbrella union ČMKOS on Tuesday, union leader Jaroslav Zavadil said that along with strikers, an additional 100,000 employees not taking part would at least pledge support. He noted that the minister for labour and social affairs had barred employees from some state branches from striking, namely staff at Social Services and Employment Offices. In addition to the strike on Wednesday, demonstrations have been scheduled to take place in 21 towns and cities.