Czech Transport Minister Vít Bárta has sacked the head of the country’s Road and Motorway Directorate and immediately named his successor. The outgoing head of the directorate, Alfred Brunclík, was punished for including a key bridge on the route of the D47 motorway among construction work that the directorate planned to freeze due to cost cutting. The D47 links Ostrava with the rest of the country and continues to the Polish border. His successor, Jiří Švorc, said the directorate would seek maximum savings not just from ongoing construction projects but also operating costs. The directorate has long been under fire for the high construction costs of Czech motorways compared with others in Europe.
The Czech Republic’s main grouping of trades unions has slammed proposed changes in the labour law set out by the government. In an official response to the proposals, the Czech and Moravian Confederation of Trades Unions said the changes would result in Czech employees having the worst working conditions in Europe. The confederation said there was no need for the changes with the Czech labour market already more flexible than most in the 27-strong European Union but job security weaker than average. Changes proposed by the government include lengthening the duration of fixed term contracts to five years from two, doubling the maximum period for specific goal related contracts and making lay-offs easier. The confederation also complained that it was not properly consulted about the changes.
The Finance Ministry has prepared a fresh amendment to the country’s lottery law aimed at allowing local councils to clamp down on automatic gaming machines and bars. The changes would allow councils to regulate the most modern video gaming machines as well as the traditional one armed bandit machines for which they already have powers. The ministry proposal calls for a maximum five year phase out period for lotteries and other games of chance so that investments can be recouped. A previous attempt to clamp down on the gaming industry failed when President Václav Klaus vetoed it in June. He argued many charities and associations would suffer from not receiving their share of gaming and lottery receipts.
Czech police have begun investigating the case of an alleged Russian spy who may have infiltrated the Army General Staff. The charges were pressed by the former head of the police section for investigations in the armed forces, Martin Hádek. He has questioned why no one is being investigated in spite of a scandal that resulted in the dismissal of three army generals and a major. The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported in late July that the alleged agent had been gathering information about the generals via the major, who ran their office. He is said to have disappeared in late 2009 and went to Moscow.
Confidence in the Czech economy slipped slightly in August compared with July according to figures released by the Czech Statistical Office on Tuesday. The overall confidence indicator fell 0.8 points over the month. Consumer confidence fell by 4.5 points over the month, outweighing a slight rise in business sentiment. The industry and trade sectors were the most optimistic with construction still in the dumps. The level of the composite confidence index is 16.3 points higher than a year earlier. Confidence has generally been rising since the end of 2009 following the steep drop during the economic crisis.
Czech President Václav Klaus has nominated former South Bohemia regional governor Jan Zahradník and human rights activist John Bok to fill the vacant post of public ombudsman. The post has been vacant since May when previous incumbent Otakar Motejl died. The lower house of parliament failed to choose a replacement from the nominees put forward by the president and upper house, the Senate, in July. The nearest candidate was Czech Helsinki Committee chairman Anna Šabatová who fell short by seven votes. The Senate will announce its latest suggestions for the post on Wednesday with the lower house to make a second stab at choosing an ombudsman by September 7.
In football, Czech manager Michal Bílek has named a near full strength squad for the first European Championship qualifier against Lithuania. The squad includes recently sidelined goalkeeper Petr Cech and striker Milan Baroš. The only major absence is injured defender Tomáš Sivok. The opening qualifier for the 2012 European Championships will be played in Olomouc on September 7.
The main grouping of health and social service workers has warned that it is prepared to give notice of strike action if proposed changes in wages and conditions are pushed through. The union said that it was resolutely opposed to plans for an across the board pay cut of 10 percent and changes in the way wages are calculated and was ready to start strike preparations if there was no agreement. It said on Tuesday that the changes would only hasten the exodus of qualified staff to work abroad. Health Minister Leoš Heger said the wages cut had to be respected if the ministry was to save around 10 billion crowns this year.
Czech companies are becoming even worse at paying their bills on time due to the economic crisis, according to a survey of more than 22,000 firms. The survey by the company ČSOB Factoring shows that firms on average pay bills 19 days after the due date. That means that the average time for payment to be made after the bill is sent has risen to 72 days from 59 days in 2008. The economic crisis is put down to the continuing caution caused by the economic crisis. In some sectors, however, the payments record is much better than average. This is for example the case of the auto sector where bills are on average paid within 40 days.
Brazil is sending a cargo of suspected illegal waste thought to have originated in the Czech Republic back to Hamburg. Brazilian authorities found the shipment of 22 tons of illegal waste at the start of the month. Czech authorities originally downplayed the idea it could come from the Czech Republic but the Ministry of Environment now says it is carrying out checks at a local firm from which the waste could have originated. The waste is being shipped back to Hamburg where it could be disposed of. It is illegal under an international convention to ship waste from rich countries to poor.