• Czech Labour Dilemmas in 2014

  • By Vladimir Sedlacek | 17 Feb 14 | Posted under: Central and Eastern Europe , Czech Republic
  • Currently, there are two immediate positive steps taken by the new Czech government: they instantly removed the hospital fees of CZK 100 (about 4 Euros) per person daily, and they continued refusing that Czech Post is privatized, as right-wing former governments have promoted in their agendas.

    Unemployment in the Czech Republic has increased at the beginning of 2014. Its official rate amounts to 8.6 %, which means an increase by 0.6 %, or by almost 43,500 people since the previous year. The worst situation is amongst people between 55 and 60 of age (there are very different figures, however, ranging from 13 to 20 % of people in that age group without any job), and amongst young people between 15 and 24 (more than 15 %). Also since last year, the GDP has dropped by 1.2 %; the consumer price index has increased by 1.4 %; industrial production has increased by 6.2 % in general, but the construction industry has recorded decline by 9.3 %.

    The approximate real wage has increased by 0.1 %. The figures from the end of January present almost 630,000 people without any kind of job (among them, 47 % are women); however, some inofficial estimates (made by trade union centrals) say about 800,000 people are unemployed. The authorities say there can be up to several thousands of free – although unmanned – jobs; but nevertheless, it is rather a distorted figure, given without any attempt at explanation. Some working experience is often demanded. But how to gain it, if you are a fresh school-leaver, having had no job so far? People over 50 are refused, because of their age (recently even younger ones); the firms consider them as those with “no-perspectives”. And not everyone can become an independent entrepreneur, although that is exactly what the Labour Offices widely push you to be.

    The country’s official inflation rate lies at 1.4 %. However, as recently presented in an analyst’s bank survey, inflation, as perceived by the consumers, is 3.9 %. Nevertheless, the increase in prices does not correspond to it. During last year, the prices of some basic foods have increased enormously (potatoes the most, by more than 40 %; but also some other kinds of vegetables, dairy products and pasta as well as meal and some meal products). The prices of some commodities have dropped a bit; however, it occurred after a previous shock increase of prices during 2013 (e.g. the price of eggs).

    Poverty. 1.5 million Czech inhabitants are directly threatened by both poverty and the social exclusion. The official poverty line lies at CZK 9,680 (about Euros 350). In the Czech Republic as a whole, there are 990,000 people living under this line – including 256,600 children and 10,200 people older than 65 years.

    In the course of last year, the situation in practice of labour relations regulated by law as well as of trade union rights has been remarkably worsened. Czech society, as a consequence of neo-liberal politics by the consecutive governments, has become considerably impoverished, and the gap of inequalities in incomes has rapidly widened. The government of Prime Minister Necas has limited both social and economic rights of employees on a larger and larger scale. It inspired some employers to create their own rules of employment, behind the framework of the Labour Code. The entrepreneurial risks were transferred onto the employees. Not too rarely, the employers denied their employees the right to unionise and to establish trade union organizations, under threat of dismissal. The employers compel their employees to accept payments in cash, with no notification to the tax administration or to the bodies of medical and social insurances.

    Paradox thinking. In the early election of last October, a paradox in the thinking of the majority of ordinary people was demonstrated once again: although their living standards have been invariably falling, they do not vote according to this fact. People do not vote according to the election programmes, and – even worse – they actually vote against their own interests. Still, there is a widespread point of view “well, we are doing worse, but the Communists are scrambling for power”, a point-of-view which is unequivocally supported by the mainstream media. On the other hand, neither the Social Democratic Party has adequate support by the public; instead of some 30 % as expected, they have won only 20.45 %. Although the party often presents itself as right-wing and both anti-people and pro-capital, there are still two steps to be declared in advance, as said above, which can be very positive for ordinary people. It seems, however, they can be helpful for the party in the eyes of the general public.

    After the EU elections, and after the elections of local parliaments to be held next autumn, we will know more.

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