In Business news this week: Czech public debt is the second smallest in the EU but the gap widens between the country’s GDP and EU average; Škoda Auto seeks factories to produce its new SUV model; government plans to cap salaries of state-owned firms; Czech Post suspends deliveries to Syria; and a new study predicts how many medals Czech athletes will win at London Olympics.
In Business News this week: Czech economy contracts less than previously expected in the first quarter of this year, with more new jobs in May; lawmakers end the monopoly of Czech Post; new study finds how much dropping education standards cost the economy; a coal war breaks out between Czech billionaires; and a new glassworks opens in Světlá nad Sázavou.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek was attacked by demonstrators at a protest in front of his ministry on Thursday. Several people spat at the minister and hit him. He had stepped out of the ministry to address protesters from the Stop the Government initiative. Some 200 people gathered there on Thursday afternoon for the last of a series of blockades in front of selected ministries. The demonstrators oppose the government’s reforms and austerity measures. Union members and other activists who have joined the initiative are calling on the government to resign.
According to a new survey by the STEM agency, the majority of Czechs believe that the current social welfare system does not motivate unemployed persons to actively seek work. Respondents said that unemployment benefits should be reduced in order to create an incentive for employment seekers. Nearly 70 percent believe that the government should cut down on unemployment benefits, while nearly 60 percent said that the current system creates little to no motivation.
Some thirty people gathered outside the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in Prague on Wednesday to protest against the reform of the welfare system and the fact that no tender was held for a new computerized system of welfare payments. The rally, is part of a series of anti-government protests which were originally planned as “human blockades” of several ministries implementing a broad range of government austerity measures but all have been marked by a low turnout.
Around 85 percent of Czechs believe that some population groups are discriminated against on the labour market, according to a new poll by the STEM agency released on Tuesday. Nearly 90 percent of those who took part in the survey said age was the most frequent cause of discrimination, followed by health conditions and pregnancy; some 64 percent of those polled also cited race and ethnicity. The poll suggests that religious beliefs and political convictions, along with sexual orientation, were among less frequent causes of discrimination on the labour market.
The government has decided to uphold its diesel fuel tax rebate program for Czech farmers until the year 2014, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Monday. However, rebate conditions will become less lucrative for farmers starting next year, when agricultural workers will only be able to claim 40 percent of their diesel fuel expenses back, as opposed to the current rate of 60 percent. Originally, the government had planned to discontinue the program in 2013; farmers protested by slowing down traffic.
According to a fresh survey by the Milward Brown agency, students of Czech secondary schools believe that there are three main problems in the Czech Republic. The poll found that the majority of the 1100 respondents believe the relationship between mainstream Czechs and Romanies is especially problematic; unemployment and politics in general were also cited as factors that make life in this country more difficult. Commenting on the result, sociologist Ivan Gabal said that Czech secondary school students are even more rigid and prejudiced towards the Romany minority than most adults. Frustration with politics is also on the rise and an increasing number of students would vote for radical parties. Some 12 percent would give their vote to the far-right Workers’ Party for Social Justice, while 13 percent would cast their ballot in favor of the Czech Pirate Party, the survey found.
The Finance Ministry has approved members of the Czech Philharmonic receiving monthly raises of up to eleven thousand crowns. A total of forty million crowns needed for the salary adjustments will be paid from the Culture Ministry’s budget. Members will thus receive salaries averaging around 40,000 crowns per month. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek backed the move as necessary to guarantee the continuation of the Philharmonic’s high quality. The National Theatre has also requested a boost in salaries; there, no decision has been taken yet.
Demonstrators gathered outside of two government ministries on Tuesday to protest against government reforms and austerity measures. The all-day happening (which included outdoor concerts, theatre and public debate) was organised by student activists and union reps behind the Stop the Government movement. Already the event, the first of five planned over the next two weeks, has drawn criticism from the prime minister.
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