Czech authorities have stopped extending the visas of North Korean labourers in conformity with U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang, meaning they should all have left the country by the end of the year, Czech officials said on Tuesday. Several hundred North Koreans have been working in various clothing and shoe factories in the Czech Republic since 2001. But the Interior Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that their residency permits were no longer being renewed, and that labourers had gradually left since the beginning of this year. None of the workers have applied for asylum in the Czech Republic, the Ministry added. The U.N placed sanctions on North Korea in 2006, when it carried out its first nuclear test.
The government has rejected a bill that would abolish healthcare fees, which are set to come into effect next month. On Wednesday, the opposition Social Democrats submitted the proposal, and gained the support of one of the governing coalition’s deputies, but in the end this was not enough for the bill to pass. As of January 2008, Czechs will have to pay 30 CZK for a visit to the doctor’s, and 90 CZK per visit to the emergency room. The health minister Tomas Julinek has said the move is necessary to cut wastage in the Czech healthcare system. The Social Democrats have also filed a complaint against the reform with the Constitutional Court, which is still to rule on the matter.
The government agency CzechTourism has opened a visitor centre on Prague’s Old Town Square to promote the Czech Republic’s regions to foreign tourists. The centre is set to provide foreign visitors with information on destinations outside of Prague. It will also organise day trips and longer stays for tourists in the Czech regions. CzechTourism has identified the stimulation of tourism outside of Prague as one of its key priorities in recent years. This is the second such centre in Prague, set up to attract tourists into the regions. Over 60% of tourists visiting the Czech Republic never set foot outside of the capital, suggest CzechTourism’s statistics.
The relatives of those who were condemned to death by show trials under communism are to receive compensation from the state. A government decree passed on Wednesday entitled surviving relatives of show-trial victims to additional benefits to their pensions. The new law will also apply to relatives of those who were shot dead when they attempted to cross the border to escape communist Czechoslovakia. Former political prisoners and their surviving relatives have been receiving supplements to their pensions since 2005. Relatives of show-trial victims can expect up to 3,000 CZK (150 USD) annually under this new decree.
The Czech cabinet has approved a new draft Penal Code which would bring about tougher punishments for criminals, and lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 14 years of age. The revised Penal Code would change substantially the classification of crimes, dividing them into two categories, depending upon their seriousness. Serious criminals would be punished more severely than at present, being handed sentences of up to 30 years imprisonment. And courts would be given the power to fast-track lesser offences, and to hand out alternative punishments. If approved by parliament and signed by the head of state, the new Penal Code could take effect as soon as January 2009.
The interior minister Ivan Langer has told journalists that the Czech Republic will not be able to do without nuclear power in the future. He made the announcement following a meeting of the National Security Council which deals with the country’s energy policy, among other things. The nuclear power issue is a thorny one for the governing coalition. The Greens oppose the construction of any further nuclear power plants, while Mr Langer’s own party, the Civic Democrats, have said they are not against it. Head of the Green Party Martin Bursik declined to comment on Mr Langer’s statement, while the Green’s foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, said that the Czech Republic’s priority must be considering other sources of energy alongside the development of nuclear power.
Those who abuse sick-pay will face harsher punishments as of 2009, reported Hospodarske noviny on Wednesday. The Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Petr Necas, is drafting a law which would allow employers to dismiss workers who, they could prove, had taken time off sick when they were not ill. As of 2009, it will no longer be the state which provides workers with the first 14 days’ worth of sick-pay – the task will fall to employers instead. For this reason, Mr Necas wants to give employers increased powers to combat any abuse of the system. Under the proposed legislation, workers found to be abusing sick-pay could also face a fine of up to 20,000 CZK (1000 USD). Unions and the opposition Social Democrats have criticized the proposed reforms.
The Czech police have stepped-up their drive against illegal migration as the country prepares to join the border-free Schengen zone at midnight on Thursday, said a police spokesperson. According to police data, some 4,500 illegal immigrants have been arrested since June, and more than 4,000 of them expelled. On Tuesday, Czech police launched a final operation before the country becomes part of the Schengen zone this week. The spokesperson said that the raids were a ‘message’ to illegal immigrants that the opening of borders did not spell an end to police controls, but instead signified the very opposite.
The car maker Skoda Auto expects to make a record net profit of CZK 15 billion this year, the chairman of the company’s board Reinhard Jung told the iHNed.cz news website. Skoda’s revenues for 2007 should reach almost CZK 230 billion, it reported. The car maker, which is part of the Volkswagen group, is one of the Czech Republic’s most important companies, with around 28,000 employees in this country.
The minister of labour and social affairs, Petr Necas, is planning significant reform of the Czech Labour Code, the news website iHNed.cz reported. Mr Necas wants to make it easier for both employers and employees to terminate contracts. His plans also envisage cutting the period of notice from three to two months and extending the trial period beyond the current three months. On top of that, Minister Necas is targeting the jobless who turn down offers of retraining or short-term work – under his reform plans such a refusal would mean the unemployed would lose all benefits. Furthermore, social welfare payments would gradually decrease the longer somebody is out of work.
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