Business News

Unemployment falls to below 10 percent. Food prices push Czech inflation slightly higher, reversing trend. Industrial production sees increase in September. Seasonally adjusted construction output at constant prices up 0.2% m-o-m. Government offers more money to bail out indebted hospitals. Czech farmers seek exception from EU bone-meal ban. Official: report of Czech illegal workers in U.S. exaggerated. North Moravian municipalities against planned nuclear plant. Czech Railways to lease Prague's main station to Grandi Stazioni of Italy.

Unemployment falls to below 10 percent

The Labour and Social Affairs Ministry has said that unemployment has fallen to below 10 percent. A spokesman for the ministry said unemployment had dropped from 10.1 percent in September to 9.9 percent in October. The decline was greater than analysts had predicted, with just over half a million people out of work. Economists said the floods of 2002 had undermined the Czech economy and that economic activity was displaying a comeback.

Food prices push Czech inflation slightly higher, reversing trend

The Czech Statistics Office said higher prices of food and non-alcoholic drinks pushed consumer prices slightly higher in October, reversing a recent trend. Prices, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), gained 0.1 percent in October compared with September and rose 0.4 percent from the level registered in October 2002.

Energy, utilities and fuel prices fell 0.3 percent from September but rose 1.9 percent from October 2002. Prices of medical services rose sharply by 3.5 percent from the year-earlier level but dipped 0.5 percent lower from the previous month. The October price development reversed the declining trend observed since July.

Industrial production sees increase in September

The Czech Statistics Office said industrial production in the Czech Republic increased in September, pushed by rising new orders and climbing productivity. In its latest survey, the body said industrial output edged 0.3 percent higher in September from August and rose 5.2 percent from the year-earlier level. Adjusted for the number of workdays, industrial output gained 3.1 percent from September 2002.

However the September data came in well below market expectations, which predicted industrial output up 6.0 per cent in the annual comparison after an 8.0-per cent climb in August. Economists cautioned that the strong rate of growth in August was influenced by a low statistical base from last year's disastrous floods, which substantially disrupted production.

Seasonally adjusted construction output at constant prices up 0.2% m-o-m.

Total construction output at constant prices increased by 14.5% year-on-year, or 13.1% after working days adjustment. Construction output continued to grow in all of its branches, but mainly in repairs of civil engineering construction. A rising volume of housing construction work also fuelled the growth. The number of workers in construction rose by 1.7%. The average monthly wage in construction enterprises with more than employees reached 17,358, rising by 8.4%.

Government offers more money to bail out indebted hospitals

The government has offered more money to the country's heavily indebted hospitals, including facilities where doctors have staged work slowdowns to protest the lack of funding. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla unveiled a bailout plan that would distribute 2.7 billion crowns by January to self-governing regional authorities that operate hospitals, and pay another 700 million crown later next year.

The bailout sum is far less than the 6 billion sought by the regional governments, but 35 per cent more than the government offered just three weeks ago. Officials said the plan hammered out by the coalition government would not increase state debt. Instead, most of the debt in the form of unpaid insurance claims would be turned over to the government's state-company bailout agency, the CKA.

Parliament is expected to discuss the plan this week as part of its work on the 2004 government budget, which already includes a 115 billion crown deficit. Last month doctors and other medical personnel launched work slowdowns at three hospitals to protest against the financial situation, which in some case has delayed pay checks for months.

Czech farmers seek exception from EU bone-meal ban

Despite recent BSE cases on Czech farms, the country's farmers' union is asking Brussels for permission to continue feeding bone-meal to cattle after European Union enlargement. Currently a bone-meal ban in EU countries aimed at preventing BSE, or mad cow disease, is scheduled to expand to the Czech Republic and nine other EU candidates after enlargement in May 2004.

However the Czech Agrarian Union said on Tuesday that the country's farmers should be allowed to feed bone-meal powder to cows even after enlargement to offset the rising cost of grains used in animal feed. Union president Vaclav Hlavacek cited a substantial increase in animal-feed costs this year tied to rising prices for soybeans and corn. The latest corn harvest on Czech farms was one third the norm, he said, and the harvest for all cereals was down 16 percent.

The union plans to ask the European Commission to waive a requirement that Czech farmers stop feeding bone-meal by 2005. The EU banned bone-meal in animal feed in 1994 as part of its battle against BSE, which has been suspected of causing the fatal brain wasting disease in humans, variant Creutzfeld-Jacobs disease.

Seven cases of BSE have been found in Czech cattle since the country began a thorough livestock testing programme in 2001. Two infected cows were reported by government regulators last month, and in one case officials announced plans to slaughter more than 800 animals from the same herd over the next several months.

Official: report of Czech illegal workers in U.S. exaggerated

A Czech official says the number of Czechs working in the United States illegally is only about one fourth the number widely cited after a U.S. crackdown on undocumented employees of the Wal-Mart supermarket chain. The Czech consul in Washington was quoted as saying that there were about 50,000 Czechs working illegally in the United States.

The claims arose after the Associated Press, quoting an anonymous source, said there were up to 200,000 Czechs were working illegally in the U.S. The claims were made after raids on Wal-Mart stores found 35 Czechs among 245 illegal workers last month. 200,000 illegal workers would make up 4 percent of the Czech Republic's labour force.

The Czech consul in Washington said the AP report overestimated the problem, although he admitted as many as 1,000 Czechs are expelled from the United States every year for working without documents. Many are lured to America with promises of good jobs and high wages.

North Moravian municipalities against planned nuclear plant

Municipalities in the Novy Jicin district in North Moravia have expressed objections to the government's efforts to revive an old idea to construct a new nuclear power plant near the village of Blahutovice. Mayors of nearby towns and villages sent a clear "not in our backyard" message to the government. They argue that the local geological conditions are not suitable for the building of any large power generator.

The Industry and Trade Ministry said the construction of a nuclear power plant at Blahutovice was only one of the options discussed during the drafting of the government's energy policy. However, the ministry believes that nuclear energy will be given preference because it is the only source capable of providing enough energy to cover the country's growing needs. Besides, the ministry said, such a large project could create many jobs in a region with a high unemployment rate.

Czech Railways to lease Prague's main station to Grandi Stazioni of Italy

The Czech national rail operator, Czech Railways, will lease three Czech railway stations, including Prague's main station, to Italy's Grandi Stazioni. Grandi should get a long-term lease contract and must renovate the stations. The Italian company won a tender a year ago to use the commercial premises of the Prague station and stations in Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, both spa towns in West Bohemia.

Grandi has pledged to invest 658 million crowns in the renovation of Prague's Main Station, 38 million in Karlovy Vary and 53 million in Marianske Lazne. The renovation will take between three and five years.