Prague could face strike as unions demand more funding for transport network

Prague Public Transport CEO Martin Dvořák, Prague Mayor Pavel Bém (right), photo: CTK

Prague could soon experience a crippling transport strike. Trade unions at the city’s transport authority are demanding an increase in funding for the city’s metro, tram and bus system. City Hall has made them an offer – but both sides are still far from reaching an agreement.

The situation in Prague’s public transport appears to be heading towards an unlimited strike. Negotiations on Tuesday between city officials and unions leaders are said to have ended in a huge row, with the latter threatening to bring the city’s transport system to a halt if their demands are not met. Vratislav Feigel is the head of one of the company’s trade unions.

Prague Public Transport CEO Martin Dvořák,  Prague Mayor Pavel Bém  (right),  photo: CTK
“Its depends on what city officials will come up with to address our demands. Then there will be negotiations. If we don’t reach any agreement, or if there is no conciliatory gesture on their side, I think there will be no other way.”

Prague City Hall agreed on Wednesday to provide the transport authority with 900 million crowns. However, the unions are demanding a lot more: they want 1.9 billion crowns, or more than 111 million US dollars, to cover the company’s operational costs. They have also raised six other requests, including no more outsourcing and lay-offs. But Prague Mayor Pavel Bém told Czech Radio the problem lies within the transport authority itself.

“The transport authority will this year cover just as much as last year, that is over 16 million kilometres. For this service, the authority last year received 7.1 billion crowns, and this year the same amount of money has already been paid. But unlike in 2008, when this was enough, this year the transport authority are saying they have a loss of two or even two and a half billion crowns. And I say, that simply is not possible!”

For its part, the Prague transport authority says that last year the company managed to cover the loss by a tax operation. But that’s no longer possible, and the city should cover the difference. Ondřej Pečený is a spokesman for the Prague transport authority.

“If we are talking about an operating profit or loss in 2008, our loss was 1.7 billion crowns, and it was the same in 2007. The only thing that changed was the accounting operation that was executed in 2008, and that enabled us to use what’s called ‘income tax on ordinary income’.”

Both sides will try to resolve this and the other issues at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday. If the negotiations fail, and City Hall does not meet the trade unions’ demands by Wednesday midnight, Prague inhabitants will have to brace themselves for a complete and unlimited halt of the city’s metro, trams and buses. The trade unions said they would give three days warning before any strike.