National Museum employees call strike alert

The planned strike of Czech Airlines pilots was averted at the eleventh hour, but others are still looming. Last month, strike alert was called by trade unions in healthcare, education, social work and libraries in protest of planned government reforms in public finances. Now, their ranks have been reinforced as the employees of the National Museum have gone on strike alert, too, in protest against cuts in spending within the government proposed reform. Earlier I spoke to Hana Outratova from the National Museum trade union association.

National MuseumNational Museum "We believe that those who are in charge of the invaluable national cultural heritage should enjoy more reward from society. For myself and my colleagues - many of them experts in their fields - I can say that we have endured dire financial conditions for so long just for the love of our work. People may be impressed when we say we work for the National Museum but only until we disclose how little we earn."

However, Hana Outratova was frank with me. She is in charge of cataloguing in the National Museum's library and her monthly income after tax is around 9,000 crowns (300 euros). The average gross monthly wage in the National Museum is around 10,000 crowns, which is some 35 percent below the national average. Many National Museum employees feel disillusioned at the state of affairs in their field - since the fall of communism - as they had expected the newly emerging Czech democracy would take better care of its national heritage.

"In 1989 we had great expectations that expert work such as ours would be duly appreciated at last. But soon afterwards it proved that money is all that matters and those who are not able to make a lot of money cannot survive."

The National Museum, which was founded in 1818, today houses some 13 million often unique items of priceless value, a mere two percent of which are on display in the museum's branches around the Czech Republic. The reason is that the National Museum lacks funds for maintenance and restoration work. As Hana Outratova says, the priority of the trade unions now is to push for a pay rise - which, as she says, will be negligible compared to the demands of Czech Airlines pilots who want their 100,000-crown salaries to double within two years.