Czech trade unions call one-day strike against cuts in public sector salaries

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Czech trades unions have called a one-day strike next month in protest against a government plan to cut the salaries of public sector employees. Over half a million people are expected to take part in the strike, the biggest such protest since the fall of communism. For its part, the Czech government has reiterated a pledge not to back down.

As part of austerity measures being implemented by the centre-right Czech coalition government, the total amount spent on public sector salaries next year will be cut by 10 percent.

The government has pushed through bills aimed at saving USD 2 billion in public spending in 2011, and the planned pay cuts are equal to about a third of that amount.

But on December 8 the coalition’s reform programme will meet a stern test. Following the breakdown of talks, union leaders have called a day-long strike on that day aimed at forcing a government rethink. Pavel Bednář is from the state employees’ trade union.

“From the very start, we’ve been against the 10-percent cut in salaries of employees in the public and administration sectors. We’ve also been very clear about our disapproval over the planned change to the pay system which might mean a decrease in salaries of up to 40 percent.

“The government has criticized us for not coming up with any alternatives. That’s not true. They’ve refused to talk about any other proposals than their own.”

December’s strike isn’t the first protest at the planned pay changes. Seven weeks ago around 40,000 people took to the streets of Prague demanding they be dropped. That was followed by some minor concessions on the part of the government. But now, with up to 600,000 workers set to go on strike, Prime Minister Petr Nečas has vowed not to give in.

Petr Nečas, photo: CTK
“We stand by what we’ve been saying all along. We will cut salary funds in the public sector by 10 percent. End of story. The government will in no way backtrack on that, even if the strike is longer and more people take part. We can however still talk about how the salaries will be reduced. If the unions are willing to talk, I’m ready to sit down with them.”

However, the chances of the stalemate being broken between now and December 8 are extremely slim. And workers’ leaders warn it might not stop there. In mid December, members of the Czech armed forces are set to stage a protest, while health workers are considering action against government heath care reform that should be introduced by 2012.