The Czech Republic is gearing up for a 24-hour transport strike over government reforms. The strike, called by the country’s trade unions, will begin at midnight Wednesday and will affect rail services throughout the Czech Republic, as well as tram and bus transport in the big cities predominantly Prague, Brno and Ostrava. Trade unions say Prague’s metro will be brought to a standstill for nearly 30 hours and traffic jams are expected in connection with planned road blockades of crucial nodes in the capital. Flights should not be affected by the protest. The strike action is in protest of pensions, health care and tax reforms planned by the centre-right government. The cabinet has said it is willing to negotiate, but trade unions insist that the concessions offered are inadequate.
Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka on Tuesday called for a broad agreement on early elections at the earliest possible date, saying the government was fuelling social tension and was unable to cope with the situation. He accused the government of pushing through socially unjust reforms and riding roughshod over any opposition to the proposed bills, saying there had been no dialogue and no debate on reforms that would affect the lives of generations of Czechs.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas and Interior Minister Jan Kubice are both expected to attend Wednesday’s crisis committee meeting at Prague City Hall. The meeting is planned for 2pm and will revolve around measures aimed at mitigating the impact of Thursday’s strike. Interior Minister Jan Kubice warned earlier that blockades would not be tolerated as a form of protest and that police would be out in force to maintain order. Prime Minister Nečas said on Tuesday that the government was putting 150 defence ministry buses and minibuses at the town hall’s disposal. Czech Railways has said it plans to rent another 200 busses to cover vital transport lines.
Czech towns and cities will in future be able to regulate the number of gaming machines on their premises by issuing special directives. Up until now it was the Finance Ministry which issued licenses making it difficult for the local authorities to clamp down on gambling. The Constitutional Court on Tuesday upheld a complaint by the town of Chrastava which has long fought to have a decisive say in the matter.
In an interview for the newspaper Financial Times, Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas said that now was not a good time for the Czech Republic to adopt the euro. Among the reasons he cited were the uncertain future of the currency and the fact that three of the 17 eurozone countries have had to apply for financial aid from the European Union. However, all twelve countries that became EU members in 2004, the Czech Republic among them, are obligated to eventually adopt the union’s common currency. Among the newer member states, Romania seems the most likely candidate for timely euro adoption by 2015. In Poland, the original euro adoption deadline of 2012 will not be met. It appears likely that the country may not adopt the euro until the end of this decade.
Czech President Václav Klaus raised the issue of the looming transport strike at a meeting on Monday with residents in the Plzeň area. The president charged that the unions organizing the strike (which is expected to paralyze public transport in the capital and other major cities and towns on Thursday) were following political aims. The strike is in protest of the government’s planned reforms, which include changes to the health care and pension systems. The president recommended that the government take a far tougher stance, saying that if he were in government or was the mayor of Prague, he would rent private buses across the country to replace public transport. Mr. Klaus was in the Plzeň area to meet with citizens ahead of his upcoming 70th birthday.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas, in a public appearance on Monday, called on
the country’s union leaders to resume negotiations with the government.
He labeled the planned transport strike and road blockades a transgression
into the sphere of politics that the opposition would ultimately benefit
from. While the government was not ready to give up its reforms, coalition
leaders were willing to make certain concessions to the unions, for example
in the area of the retirement age and other elements of the pension reform,
the prime minister said.
The unions have labeled these concessions insufficient and say they are not planning to cancel a nationwide transport strike to take place on Thursday.
Another 81 cobblestones honoring Holocaust victims will be added to Prague’s Zborovská Street as part of an international project organized by the German artist Gunter Demnig. Monday’s installation of new cobblestones is the second round of the project in Prague; the artist first added his stones to streets of cities across the Czech Republic in 2008.Under the title “Stolpersteine,” German for “stumbling blocks,” Mr. Demnig added such stones, bearing the name, birth date and date of deportation of the victim, to cities across Europe. A total of 23,000 of them have been installed to date. The project was inspired by a line from the Talmud: “One is not truly dead until one’s name is forgotten.”
An independent postal workers’ union, the SOS-21, announced on Monday that their members will be joining the transport workers’ strike on Thursday. SOS-21 members are employees of the postal service’s logistics department. Previously, only the transport department unions of the Czech Postal Service had planned to join the nationwide strike. The biggest union within the Czech Postal Service, which counts some 15,000 members, will not be participating, although its chairman said that his union agreed with the organizers. With 36,000 employees, the Czech Postal Service is the nation’s biggest employer.
The Transport Ministry may take advantage of Thursday’s nationwide transport strike to repair rails across the country, a spokesperson for the ministry said Monday. Transport Minister Radek Šmerda will be negotiating with the unions on Tuesday to determine whether the ministry may be able to send repair trains onto the rails to take advantage of the standstill in rail traffic. The railway workers’ union joined the transport strike in protest of an earlier retirement age, which is part of a planned pension reform.
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