News Wednesday, DECEMBER 22nd, 1999

Radio Prague E News Written / Read by: Bill Bathurst Date: 22.12.99

Hello and a very warm welcome to the programme. Im Bill Bathurst first lets start with a look at the main headlines of the day:

You are tuned to Radio Prague, those were the headlines, now let’s take a look at the news in full:

Unpaid workers demonstrate in Prague

Czech Trade Unions have welcomed a Parliamentary proposal calling for the government to release 400 million crowns, (roughly seven million pounds) for workers who have not been paid for the last two months. This was suggested in Parliament on Tuesday by a communist MP. It is thought that the money if provided, will be handed out to cash strapped regions in the form of interest free loans. Although Trade Union leaders praised the move, they did say that a solution to the problem of workers not being paid, should be found as soon as possible.

This comes as employees from several struggling Czech heavy industrial companies demonstrated in front of the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday seeking payment of long overdue wages. Police estimated the crowd at around 1 000, while Trade Union leaders, said about 2 000 workers took part. The workers, who in some cases have not been paid for six months, called on Parliament to quickly approve a new law on bankruptcy, to force their employers to pay up. Unions estimate that up to 100 000 workers have gone without wages in recent months at the large companies, which were once the pride of the communist system.

Czech Premier Milos Zeman was greeted on his way to work with banners screaming out “Shame” and “Time to Wake Up”. Some of the unpaid workers were comforted by Trade Union Chairman Richard Falbr and Communist leader Miroslav Grebenicek. The two were not on the same side, however. Falbr, who is also a senator, said the communists who were handing out leaflets, were there to ruin the demonstration. Grebenicek for his part, accused Falbr or having collaborated with past governments.

Parliament passes bankruptcy law

The Czech Parliament on Tuesday, passed a long awaited draft law on bankruptcy and compensation. This should enable companies facing financial difficulties, to pay employees.

Although the country already has a bankruptcy law, courts are often slow to act against insolvent firms. The new draft law, will ease the bankruptcy process, while making the preservation of the workforce a top priority in settlements. Premier Milos Zeman slammed the opposition Civic Democrat Party and the Freedom Union on Tuesday after they opposed the government proposal to pass the law. The two right wing parties believe that the bill will not keep firms from falling into situation where they are unable to pay employees.

Zeman was very critical, saying he could not believe that some opposition politicians who had at one time been in government and allowed economic crime to flourish, were unwilling to pass a law which would help struggling companies. The law has been the focus of much attention among Czech workers and Trade Unions demonstrating in Prague on Tuesday.

While the Unions welcomed the bill on Tuesday, analysts have commented that it will not solve problems companies are having, paying their workers. The cabinet, however, called the bill one of the steps needed to improve the situation overall.

ODA slam Grulich

The Civic Democratic Alliance, (ODA) has criticised a decision by the Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich to deport all illegal immigrants next year. Head of the party, and Senator Michal Zantovsky said on Tuesday, that this is a nonsensical and drastic solution full of security risks. He added that the thought of immigrants being deported in transportations evokes images of the second world war and commented that this is merely a way of justifying expenditure. This comes as Vaclav Grulich, Minister of the Interior announced on Monday, that as of the year 2000, illegal immigrants will be deported from the Czech Republic back to Russia and the Ukraine.

CR provides financial aid: Chechens and flood stricken Venezuelans

The Czech Republic is to donate 50 000 US Dollars to help refugees from Chechnya and another 50 000 for survivors of the flooding in Venezuela. The National Security Council decided on Tuesday to use money left in the fund, originally for helping refugees from Kosovo after Interior Minister Vaclav Grulich said there was enough money left in the fund since most of the refugees in question have now returned home. A spokesman said the Czech Republic could eventually donate more than 50 000US Dollars to help Venezuela with its problems. The avalanche of mud and water that struck Venezuela’s north coast left up to 30 000 dead and 140 000 homeless last week in what is probably one of Latin America's’ worst natural disasters of the 20th century.

Drugs ring busted

The Czech police has broken up an international drug smuggling ring after months of undercover investigations. Four gang leaders were simultaneously arrested earlier in the week, in Prague, Pilsen and Copenhagen. A police spokeswoman said two Albanians were working in the Czech republic and two in Denmark. They were operating a heroin smuggling ring from Prague to Copenhagen, via Germany. The two members arrested in the Czech Republic are facing sentences of up to 15 years in jail.

Czechs to intensify EU integration efforts

Pavel Telicka Czech negotiator for European Union integration, said on Tuesday that Czech diplomats intend to step up their efforts to bring the country closer to membership of the Union. He said that the Czech republic along with other candidate countries has welcomed a decision to hold the next round of talks before April. Speaking to journalists in Prague, he said the meeting, which could take place in March, is expected to focus on discussing further “chapters”. These are aspects and conditions of EU membership which all candidate countries have to fulfil. Telicka said the Czech Republic has recently handed over more information to the Union on chapters such as Free Trade and Transport and is currently working on material relating to taxation.

And finally the weather:

Wednesday will see a clear, cold start to the day, with the possibility of snow towards the evening as the sunshine will be replaced by cloudy skies. Temperatures during the day, will range from –5 to 2 degrees Celsius, dropping overnight to as low as –10 degrees Celsius.

I’m Bill Bathurst and that’s the end of the news.