Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas has indicated he hopes to introduce changes in unemployment benefits in the near future through new legislation. Saturday’s Právo reported that the minister is planning to raise benefits to 65 percent of net income instead of the current 50 percent, but also to cut state support by one month. Currently, the unemployed can be slotted for support for six, nine, or 12 months, periods which would each be shortened by 30 days. The minister told the paper also that if unemployed individuals, registered with the labour office for more than five months, rejected offered employment or retraining, they could be deleted from the registry - losing benefits. Mr Nečas has said that a final version of the draft bill will be completed in two weeks’ time.
In hockey: the NHL’s All-Star Game between the Eastern and Western Conferences is set to take place on Sunday, with two Czech players on the Eastern conference roster. They are Tomáš Kabrle, defenseman for the Toronto Maple Leafs and goalie Tomáš Vokoun, who plays for the Florida Panthers. The All-Star Game has a long tradition in the NHL; last year the showcase match was won by the West by a score of 12:9.
Around 300 people near Osečná, north Bohemia, have protested against possible uranium mining in the area. Local inhabitants, town representatives and environmentalists met at a protected 1000-year old linden tree in the village of Kotel to express their opposition. Protest organiser Josef Jadrný told Czech news agency ČTK that activists want to prevent first steps which could lead to uranium mining which could devastate nature in the Podještedí area. The protected site covers 10.5 square kilometres and could contain as much as 20,000 tonnes of uranium worth about 120 billion crowns (the equivalent of 6.8 billion US dollars). Activists have confirmed that a civic association is being established over the issue; participants have also promised to send a letter of protest to the Environment Ministry.
In related news, the head of the Green Party Martin Bursík repeated on Saturday that presidential candidate Jan Švejnar can count on backing from a majority, if not all, Green Party lawmakers. The party has just six representatives in the Chamber of Deputies but was the first to express support for Mr Švejnar’s nomination last year. The economics professor met with Green Party members on Saturday to discuss issues from the EU, to nuclear energy, and missile defense.
Czech and US negotiators will open a fifth round of negotiations in Prague on Monday on a possible tracking radar in the country as part of the United States’ missile defence shield. US officials revealed the news in Prague on Friday. The first days of talks will focus on a general legal agreement before negotiations switch to a separate deal covering ballistic missile defence and the radar's operation. This week the US showed increased interest in sealing a deal quickly; but Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has stressed that getting a quality agreement took priority over speed. Washington wants its anti-missile shield in place and operational by 2012 in order to counter threats by so-called rogue states.
The Czech-American economist Jan Švejnar has said he will give up his US citizenship if he is elected Czech president. He made the statement in an interview for the Saturday edition of Mladá fronta Dnes. The candidate said it was a decision he hadn’t reached easily but one he had arrived at after touring the country and hearing from members of the public. Mr Švejnar, who lives on-and-off in the United States, dismissed any suggestion he was bowing to political pressure: dual-citizenship has been an issue for some lawmakers on the political Left, namely the Communists. Mr Švejnar is the sole challenger to incumbent President Václav Klaus, still widely considered the favourite. The election takes place on February 8.
Czech speed skater and athlete of the year Martina Sáblíková has confirmed dominance in the 5,000 metres by winning the event at the World Cup race in Hamar, Norway on Saturday. Sáblíková finished with a time of 6:51.83 (a track record) – 4.74 seconds ahead of nearest rival Claudia Pechstein. Sáblíková is atop the World Cup standings with 480 points, followed by Germany’s Pechstein (320), and Canada’s Hughes (285).
The Czech ombudsman, Otakár Motejl, has revealed that Polish nationals recruited by an agency to work for car producer Škoda Auto on a temporary basis were treated worse than fulltime Czech colleagues. Checks at the jobs agency, Zetka Auto, which recruited the workers, uncovered “extensive shortcomings” the ombudsman made clear in a year-end report. The Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza first raised the alarm in October 2006: the jobs agency at the time admitted that it paid workers a monthly wage of little over 10 thousand crowns per month, around half the regular salary in the sector. The daily charged that the some 900 Polish workers were sometimes forced to work 16 hours without a break, that wages were often paid late and that they were a fraction of what workers had been promised. Legal proceedings were launched against Zetka Auto following an investigation by the Czech labour office. Following the scandal, Škoda Auto changed its procedure for selecting agencies recruiting temporary labour.
The former head of a hospital in Havlíčkův Brod, east Bohemia, is facing charges for allegedly failing to alert the authorities in time over suspicious deaths at the site, the regional daily Jihlavský děnik reported on Friday. The Havlíčkův Brod Hospital was the site of a series of murders in 2006 by suspect Petr Zelenka; he is currently on trial. Mr Zelenka, then employed as a nurse at the facility is charged with having murdered seven patients and attempting to kill ten others, by injecting them with lethal or would-be lethal doses of the blood-thinning drug heparin. The former hospital director, Josef Pejchl, dismissed any wrong-doing in connection with the case, saying he had alerted the authorities; if found guilty of criminal negligence, he could face up to three years in prison.