Analyst: reforms will not be as tough as trade unions expect


Czech trade unions have slammed changes to the labour code proposed by the government which would extend the length of short-term contracts, slash severance pay, and cut unemployment benefits for people who quit their jobs. The country’s main group of trade unions said Tuesday that if the changes went through, Czech employees would have the worst working conditions in Europe. Not all, however, are certain the government will push through all the tough changes it is promising – not without fully negotiating with the unions first.

Petr Nečas  (left),  trade union leader Jaroslav Zavadil,  photo: CTK
A little earlier, I spoke to Jan Macháček, a columnist for the weekly Respekt.

“I suppose – I am not sure obviously – but I suppose the government’s proposals are part of a strategy which should create a buffer zone for negotiations, a little space to step back a little bit or even a lot. I don’t think that the real results of the reforms will be as tough as the unions are expecting: both sides will have to reach some kind of a compromise.”

The prime minister has indicated some willingness, saying, for example, that the deadline is not set in stone…

“Exactly. I think that it seems PM Petr Nečas would like to follow the German example of building up a consensus about changes and cuts with unions and in society as such. I don’t know if he will be successful or not but I think it’s certain he will not try to fight a war with the unions at this very moment. I think he will try and build up some consensus through lengthy negotiations.

“Also, the world has changed: before the crisis, after the crisis. We are not in the 1990s anymore and I think that now it is sort of considered more serious to follow the German example. Their reforms are considered to be very successful, based on a consensus with the unions Germany went through the crisis and at this moment to be better off than other countries. So, we are not in the ‘90s anymore, where the Anglo-Saxon model of flexible capitalism was winning on all fronts.”

But if at least some of the changes being talked about do go through, they have been welcomed by firms…

“Well, that’s not entirely clear. A week or two ago Škoda Auto – a major industrial producer and major employer in this country – criticized the government plans as being too radical. So you have kind of an absurd situation where an employer is criticising the government for pushing too hard. But, as I said, I don’t think the government wants to everything it has said – it needs some room in negotiations.”