In this week's Business News: the Czech national debt is down for first time since the 1990s; inflation levels continue a downward trend; the new Prague metro "D" line is approved; unemployment levels are up in September; Budvar declares victory over rival in Italy and former PM Vladimír Špidla says rosy Czech poverty data is misleading.
Trade unions in the health sector have gone on strike alert to draw attention to what they describe as a looming crisis in the health sector and social services. The head of the umbrella organization of health and social services employees Dagmar Zitnikova said many hospitals and spa facilities were now on the brink of bankruptcy and these issues needed to be addressed urgently. She called on parties running in October’s general elections to make public their stand on the matter.
The number of working pensioners in the Czech Republic is on the rise despite an increase in the retirement age, the Czech Statistics Office reported on Wednesday. While in 2010 the number of employed pensioners between 65 and 70 years of age was 129 thousand in the first half of this year it had increased to 145 thousand. The number of pensioners who continue to work past their retirement age has now reached over 11 percent.
Finance Minister Jan Fischer has accused his predecessor Miroslav Kalousek of tolerating violations of the labour code at the ministry while in office. Minister Fischer said that an internal investigation had revealed serious malpractices in the past including violations in work ethics and attendance where favoured employees had had month-long work absences covered by non-existent business trips. Others had been subjected to mobbing at the workplace which their superiors turned a blind eye on. Mr. Fisher said he believed his predecessor could not have been unaware of what was going on.
Over a million people in the Czech Republic are in some way disabled. In addition to the health problems this entails and the social stigma associated with physical and mental disabilities, their chances of finding work are slim. A foundation that helps people with disabilities find jobs has launched a unique project aimed at breaking down existing prejudices and giving more people with disabilities a chance on the labour market. Filip Zoubek, who is project manager, explains that the Heartwrenchers campaign is based on give-and-take.
Unemployment among university graduates is a growing problem. According to labour office statistics 32,000 university graduates are unemployed, some having failed to find work for several years. The results of a survey among university students conducted by Student Media suggest that fear of unemployment is high, with only 12 percent of students confident of their ability to find work. Forty percent of respondents said they were seriously considering applying for work abroad on graduation.
Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok told reporters on Friday that if the owners of the Paskov mine in northern Moravia were to act as gentlemen in negotiations with the government, it would be possible to keep the mine open until 2016. The mine’s owner OKD announced earlier this week that it is planning to close the mine by the end of 2014, claiming that it has not been profitable for some time. The mine currently employs some 3,000 workers, in a region that already has high unemployment. OKD said that with financial help from the government, it would be willing to keep the Paskov mine open longer, but on Wednesday Prime Minister Rusnok refused to provide any subsidies to the firm. The government will open negotiations with OKD’s shareholders next week in an effort to keep it open for another three years.
Representatives of unions, industry and the government met on Friday for three-way talks on the proposal for next year’s budget. Union and industry representatives said that the finance ministry’s draft budget was not conducive enough to economic growth and that the caretaker government should not be so strict in complying with the EU-mandated deficit ceiling of three percent of the GDP. After the talks, Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok announced that the government will not change the 112-billion crown deficit proposed in the draft budget, which is just below three percent of GDP. The outgoing government will be voting on the final proposal next Wednesday, though it will not be discussed by the lower house of parliament until after the general elections in late October. The budget proposal may be significantly altered by the new government and lower house.
Business News: Czech consumers can look forward to cheaper electricity prices, Paskov mine facing closure after government refuses bailout, Czech Photovoltaic Association may challenge the law restricting support for renewable energy sources and 2014 draft budget projects public spending gap below 3 percent of GDP.
In related news, the Social Democrats have dismissed a request by the owners of the unprofitable Paskov mine in north Moravia for government assistance to postpone its closure. Deputy chair of the Social Democrat party, Lubomír Zaorálek, told reporters on Wednesday the demand was outrageous. The Social Democrats are expected to win the upcoming general election and form the country’s next government.
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Screenshot: a hybrid English-friendly Prague art-house cinema where screenings are events