Castles and chateaux battling new Labour Code

Visitors to the country's numerous chateaux and castles this summer may be in for a big surprise. They may not have a tour guide at all or one who has just learned about the historical site himself. The reason is that the new Labour Code, which came into effect this year, slashes in half the number of hours in a week that part-timers are allowed to work - from forty hours to just twenty. The National Heritage Institute, which manages dozens of tourist sites around the country, is now trying to find a way to amend the law.

Pavel Stasek has been giving visitors a memorable tour around the Schwarzenberg crypt in Trebon for many years. But experienced guides like him may soon be hard to find. The problem is that guides are part-time workers who provide their services seasonally. The old Labour Code made an exception for such workers, allowing them to work for forty hours a week without a full-time contract. But in the new law, there is no mention of such an exception. This leaves employees with only two choices - to offer seasonal workers full-time contracts for a fixed term or limit their working hours to a maximum of twenty hours a week as permitted in the Labour Code.

But for the country's state-owned castles and chateaux, which have limited finances and a quota on the number of employees that can be under contract, only the latter choice is possible. Petr Fedor is a member of the castle wardens' association and also oversees the administration at Veveri Castle in Moravia:

"When we put someone under contract, we're not only obliged to pay him a salary but also cover his days off, subsidise lunch, and pay for other things that we would not have had to pay for if he were a part-time worker. So, that's why we simply can't afford it. We're very eager to keep those guides who come back every year, who we've trained, and who are able to give tours in one or two foreign languages. But since we can only offer them 20 hours a week we fear that they will go someplace else."

But even if tourist site administrations were to double the number of guides, they would have to solve another problem - space. Last year, Karlstejn Castle had sixty guides working forty hours a week. If they had to employ 120 guides they would have to find a way to cater for them.

Petr Fedor says the Culture Ministry will have to convince the government to amend the current law:

"We looked at the problem from all angles and found that the easiest solution is to ask - which we have already done - the culture minister to intervene and discuss the matter with the labour and social affairs minister during cabinet sessions. We know why the article with the exception was left out. It's because of the pressure exerted by trade union organisations. Their cause was to make it more difficult for employers to give their staff part-time conditions, which do not include the special benefits that they would have to provide under proper working contracts."