Some 2,000 trade union members from a leading Czech mining company, Czech Coal, staged a protest outside the government building in Prague on Wednesday against a bill that will ban the expropriation of land for mining. The draft legislation has already been passed by Parliament and is to be signed into law by the president. The protesters said that the bill would lead to a decline in mining and to a loss of jobs, particularly in the depressed region of northern Bohemia. The environmental group Greenpeace however accused the protesters of promoting the interests of Czech Coal management as they did not react to massive layoffs by the firm in the past.
The Japanese company Panasonic announced on Wednesday it will close its plant in Žatec, in northern Bohemia, and lay off some 590 workers. The firm, which launched the production of LCD panels in the plant in 2007, quoted strategic considerations as the reason. The decision to close the plant in Žatec will reportedly not affect another Panasonic operation in Plzeň.
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek, of the TOP 09 party, officially quit the government when President Klaus on Wednesday accepted his resignation. Mr Drábek announced his resignation earlier this month in the wake of scandal surrounding his deputy whom the police charged with corruption. The TOP 09 party has proposed former senator Ludmila Müllerová for the post of labour and social affairs minister, a choice yet to be confirmed by the prime minister.
People in the Zlín region, in the east of the country, took the highest number of sick days in the country in the first nine month of the year, according to figures released by the Czech Social Security Administration on Saturday. People there took on average 57 days off due to sickness, compared to the national average of over 47 days. However, the Zlín region registered an annual decrease in both the number of sick days and the cases of sick leaves. The lowest number of sick days – 37 – was registered in Prague.
Prime Minister Petr Necas has said he wants to meet with Ludmila Mullerova in person before proposing her appointment to the post of labour and social affairs minister. The prime minister said he wanted to hear Ms. Mullerova’s plans for the ministry and debate certain problem areas before making up his mind. Ms. Mullerova, a former deputy labour minister, who served as an aide to the outgoing Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromir Drabek has been selected by TOP 09 as the most suitable candidate for the past.
The new minister for labour and social affairs, replacing the outgoing Jaromír Drábek who is stepping down over a corruption scandal related to his former deputy, is likely to be former senator and aide Ludmila Müllerová, several sites have reported. She told the Czech news agency she had been offered the post by the outgoing minister but the final decision would be up to party leader Karel Schwarzenberg. Jaromír Drábek steps down on October 31. If TOP 09 nominates the 58-year-old Müllerová, and she is approved by the prime minister, she could then be named to office by the president. As it stands, ČTK pointed out, the future of the government itself is uncertain with risk it could fall over discord within the Civic Democratic Party over proposed tax hikes. The government has tied the proposed bill, which could still see changes, to a confidence vote.
An article in Friday’s edition of the daily Právo which claimed that 60 percent of the Roman minority are unemployed by choice and are not looking for work has elicited a stormy debate and given rise to fresh anti-Roma sentiment. The paper published the figure citing the government’s agency for social inclusion as its source. The agency in turn cited the World Bank as its source and noted that the figure only reflected the situation in the worst affected areas around the country where Romanies live in utter social exclusion and have often given up on finding work. Despite the revision, the article has aroused deep public discontent with close to 800 readers taking part in an online debate that was in part vulgar and racist. One reader said he was considering taking the paper to court for inciting anti-Roma sentiment.
The daily Mlada Fronta Dnes has accused Labour and Social Minister Jaromir Drabek of lying to the public when he promised that the newly introduced electronic system for paying out welfare benefits would also be used for pensions. The paper says that an agreement on the so called S-cards between the ministry and the Česká Spořitelna bank clearly states that the cards will serve to pay out pensions as well. The new S-card system has evoked enormous controversy, with critics pointing out that pensioners living in small villages may have problems getting to a money machine and would inevitably lose money on the transaction from their already meagre pensions. In the wake of last week’s election defeat the prime minister said the system would have to be revised, but Mlada Fronta Dnes points out this will not be at all easy since it would not only require a change of legislation but moreover the bank would almost certainly take the matter to court.
Prime Minister Nečas –who is under fire for his party’s election debacle - has said the government may review some of the labour ministry’s decisions in the sphere of welfare payments. The prime minister said that the introduction of the so-called S-card – and electronics card for welfare payments – was a case in point. The card has come under fire by the opposition and those eligible for welfare support who say they would lose money on it. TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg also said on Monday he would be in favour of tempering somewhat the social impact of the government’s reforms. Labour Minister Drábek, who is leaving office at the end of the month in connection with the bribery scandal surrounding his deputy, said it was possible to back-track on any of the ministry’s projects –the question was who would pay for the money wasted.
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