Over 120,000 state employees take part in strike over pay cuts

Photo: CTK

Tens of thousands of people in the Czech Republic have been protesting on Wednesday against plans by the country’s government to cut public sector pay next year. More than 120,000 state employees have held a one-day strike, while demonstrations were organised across the country.

Photo: CTK
Some 1,500 people gathered outside the Czech Labour and Social Affairs Ministry on Wednesday. Similar events were held around the country to protest against government’s plans to cut salaries in the public sector. The country’s trades unions say some more than 120,000 state employees went on the one-day strike. At the rally in Prague, I talked to some of the protesters about what brought them there.

“We are protesting against the systemic changes proposed by this government. We do not agree with them. We want the system of salaries to remain the same.”

“I’m a doctor, a psychiatrist, I’ve got a PhD, and my base salary is 840 dollars a month. My rent is 500, so I have to make do with what’s left. I’ve reached one of the highest qualifications in the country, and that’s my salary.

Photo: CTK
“It’s absolutely preposterous that those who have caused what‘s now happening in this country not to participate in the reforms. Or in fact they do – by stealing from the socially weak and physically handicapped people. For me that’s something totally unacceptable.”

Wednesday’s protests closed some 500 schools. Many hospitals only provided emergency care, and some of the state offices were closed for business. The National Library was closed for the whole day as were some sections of the National Museum, and many other state-run institutions.

Their employees oppose government plans to cut their salaries by 10 percent next year, part of the cabinet’s austerity measures that should balance the country’s budget deficit by 2016.

But the government has remained firm, showing little readiness to change its plans. President Václav Klaus said he believed even trade union leaders were aware that the cuts were necessary.

Václav Klaus,  photo: archive of the Government of the Czech Republic
“I understand that many people don’t like the cuts; that makes sense. But we have gotten into this situation after decades of increasing budget deficits, and the cuts are now absolutely inevitable. Everybody knows that, and I’m 100-percent convinced that union leaders know it too, and that are only showing muscle. That’s irresponsible. I’m totally opposed to that and it bothers me.”

Meanwhile, workers’ leaders hope the strike will make the government rethink the cuts. But they have not yet said what the course of action will be if the cabinet does not back down.