In this week's edition of Mailbox: Jihlava and the Cabinet's indecisiveness over how much Czechs should get from the state when they are on sick leave. Listeners quoted this week: Henry Barnes and Dalibor Silhan.
"I visited friends from Jihlava a few weeks ago. It seemed like a really nice town. I only spent a day there, as a stopover on my way to Poland. How many inhabitants does it have? I was told around half a million but I think our acquaintances got the figures wrong."
Yes they did indeed. They added one zero too many. Jihlava has a population of 53,000. I guess we've never introduced it in Spotlight - if so, then it was too long ago - I must admit that I have been planning to go there for a while but decided to wait until the summer to cover it in the programme. It's a pity that you only spent a day there, Mr Barnes. It's an interesting town. Dating back to the 12th century, it is among the oldest of the mining towns in Bohemia, lying in a truly picturesque area in between the Bohemian-Moravian highlands.
Dalibor Silhan has Czech roots and has been living in the Chicago area for several years now. He writes:
"I have not been back in the Czech Republic for many years and, to be frank, don't miss it much either. But I do miss our health care system and whenever my American friends ask me what I am proud of the most in my home country, I say it's health care. I recently read in the Czech papers that the system is not as good as it used to be because people were abusing the so-called 'nemocenska' system. Is that true?"
Yes, it is, I'm afraid. Just to explain, 'nemocenska' is the Czech term for the money people get from the state when they are on sick leave. The state used to be quite generous but has found that too many Czechs were on sick leave far too often and decided to cut down payments.
The current system with which sick leave benefits are given is far too complicated to explain. Just to give you a rough idea, for the first three days, those on sick leave seem to get 25% of their average monthly wage. From day 4-14, they receive 69% of just part of their monthly salary and for the remaining days it's 69% of another, higher, part of their salary.
However, there are two new proposals currently being discussed in cabinet that could change things completely. The one that would benefit the ordinary Czech but would take two billion crowns more out of the state budget was put forward by Labour and Social Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach. He wants to see employees on sick leave get 35% of their average monthly wage (of the past year) for the first three days, followed by 70% for the next five months. After that the benefits would drop to 65%.
The other proposal, by Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, has those on sick leave get only 25% for the first three days and then 60% a month for the rest of the time their home sick. The country's trade unions have rejected Minister Sobotka's proposal. He, in turn, says it's the only way to stop people from abusing the health care system. Minister Skromach, on the other hand, proposes to give people more money and severely punish those abusers who are caught. So far, it seems that the cabinet is divided over the issue.
You have a little over a week to take part in the annual competition. Send us a few lines, at least half a page, on what Czech music means to you. The main prize will be a week in Prague and there'll also be a number of attractive runner-up prizes. You have until June 15 to get your answers to us.
May: "May 12th 2004 marked the 120th anniversary of the death of the famous Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. Where was he buried?"
You have until June 8 to get your answers to us.
June: "There will be nine anniversaries in June. Which of the musicians commemorated was born exactly one hundred years ago?"
The answers for the June question should get to us by June 30th.
Send your answers to the Radio Prague English Section, 120 99 Prague 2, the Czech Republic or by e-mail to [email protected]