CSA pilots win battle over higher wages

The Czech Airlines Pilots Association seem to have won their 8-month battle with management over higher wages and overtime pay. The two sides announced a last minute agreement on a 30% wage increase late Thursday night, just hours before a scheduled strike by pilots was due to go into effect. Daniela Lazarova has the story:

After eight months of wrangling, the CSA pilots association played its ace - the threat that 250 pilots would walk off the job on Friday morning, crippling Prague's main international airport, had the desired effect. The bottom line was that management were not in a position to replace them. But were they entitled to bring out their heavy artillery? Milan Polivka of the Labour and Social Affairs Research Institute is convinced they were.

"They surely have the right to re-negotiate their salaries. That is a legitimate right of every employee as is the right to strike. It is clear why the public is not on their side when we compare their salary to the national average, but I think that they can be successful because they are a homogenous, highly qualified group and they have a good example from abroad where strikes in this area are quite common and successful."

As Mr. Polivka said the pilots' battle has won very little public sympathy. With the current national monthly average wage at just under 15,000 crowns, pilots' average of 61,000 does not strike most Czechs as cause for complaint. According to an opinion survey 76% of Czechs do not sympathize with the pilots' demand for higher wages at a time when surgeons and medical personnel in general are making a pittance in comparison. But then can one really compare different professions and say whose is the more deserving? Daniel Munich of the National Economy Institute:

"I think that one shouldn't compare professions, because people are educated for these professions in different ways. Sometimes they have to make a contribution of their own, sometimes, such as in the case of doctors, they get a valuable education free of charge. So part of the cost they incur is evened out by lower wages."

In this country there are huge differences in salaries in different sectors. Do you think that the level of salaries in different sectors is distorted?

"There are always distortions in economies such as ours because different occupations and industries are built on a different distribution of power of trade unions, workers and employers. Some industries are monopoly industries and they have monopoly profit which could finance high wages such as in energy distribution, on the other hand we have quite competitive industries in which wages are driven down by tough competition."

Asked whether they think that in due time doctors and teachers will enjoy the kind of money and prestige they have in Western Europe, labour experts say "Not for some time yet. Only when the state is rich enough to pay them what they deserve". As a result many of them have chosen to go into the private sector, where, like pilots they stand a better chance of getting their financial demands granted.