“The target is a good economy after the crisis” – Unions chief welcomes short-time work scheme

Josef Středula, photo: Jana Trpišovská / Czech Radio

Among the many coronavirus measures introduced by the Czech government is a “kurzarbeit”, or short-time working, programme. Under the scheme the state will make up some of the income lost by employees whose work is reduced by factory outages, helping firms avoid redundancies. The idea has received widespread backing, including from the Czech Confederation of Trade Unions, headed by Josef Středula. I discussed it – and the outlook in general – with the unions chief.

Josef Středula,  photo: Jana Trpišovská / Czech Radio
“For us, for the trade unions, this is a very important tool.

“After 2009, after the financial crisis, together with employers, we prepared a draft for the government to have this tool in Czech law.

“Now we will use this tool in practice for the first time.

“This is a very good tool for the support and security of our jobs, and especially for our companies, because companies now in the time of coronavirus will be under big pressure.

“We want to secure our jobs, we want to secure our people and together we want to secure our companies.

“Because there will be a time after the crisis – and after the crisis we want to have a very good starting point.”

Employers are also broadly backing this idea of short-time work. But do you have any reservations about it? Is there anything about the government’s plans that we’ve seen so far that you aren’t completely happy with?

“I think that now we are at the start of a process with some impact on the economy.

“And we have, with our social partners – employers’ organisations – a common target, and that is to have a good economy after the crisis.

“I believe that we will be in a better situation, but now nobody knows what will follow.

“Maybe we are before some short crisis, maybe before some long crisis.

“If our companies will be closed for a longer time, we will have to look for some other tools.

“And I believe the government’s eyes will be open to some other possibilities – and our parliament too.”

What kind of things are you hearing from your members? I presume that like everybody else Czech workers are extremely worried about the future?

Photo: ČTK/Václav Pancer
“We are now discussing a lot of issues with our members.

“Some companies contact us and want to close for 14 days – not only international companies, but some Czech companies too.

“People have really been shaken by this situation. It’s not that they don’t understand – they understand very well and support the government.

“But people who are at home doing home office and people who must go to their companies every day are really under big pressure.

“And we want from the government side more thanks to these people, because they are the basis of the economy.

“In particular we are discussing with some members of the government critical infrastructure – this is now very important.

“We need energy, we need water, we need a health and safety system in good condition, and other things.”

Obviously you don’t have a crystal ball and you can’t tell the future. But what’s your worst fear? How bad can things get, do you think?

“The tourism sector especially will be under bigger pressure than it’s possible to imagine.

“We feel that this sector will start very slowly, because people after this crisis will not support some trips abroad or to other cities, and that will be a big problem.

“It means hotels, restaurants, some infrastructure for tourists will be under big pressure.

“But some other parts of the economy will be after reconstruction relatively quickly and will start again.

“If some shops will be open, it means car showrooms and other shops, then the economy will start again relatively quickly.

“But the tourism area will be under the biggest pressure.

“It is the same for people who work for themselves.

Photo: ČTK/Ondřej Deml
“That’s another big problem and I’m very happy that Czech people are starting to show major support for people who are working as painters and things like that.

“It’s very nice that we understand that we must prepare some help for these people.

“This is together with us. We are not only a representative of the trade unions – we are also representatives of society.

“And we feel that the Czech economy will be in a better condition after the crisis if we work together.”