Statistics reveal that women who go on maternity leave find it hard to return to their former jobs and face what labour market experts call hidden forms of discrimination. Despite government incentives many Czech firms avoid employing young mothers and their former employers often refuse to grant them part-time jobs. Consequently the Czech Republic has one of the highest unemployment rates of mothers in Europe.
The unemployment rate in February remained unchanged from January’s 8.6 percent while the number of job seekers dropped by 0.6 percent to roughly 625,000; the amount of job vacancies, however, grew, the Czech Employment Office said. February often sees high unemployment figures, but the office said this year’s mild winter had had a positive effect. The unemployment figure is expected to drop in the coming months due to seasonal jobs.
One of the country’s frequently stated assets in attracting foreign investment has been its skilled and relatively cheap work force. However the outcome of a study by consultants Engage Hill suggests that the drawn out economic crisis has had a negative impact on Czechs’ work ethics and the country may be heading for trouble.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka says he wants to gradually increase the minimum wage so as to give people incentive to find employment rather than staying on the dole. Mr. Sobotka said he would be in favour of raising the minimum wage, which is presently 8,500 crowns, by about 500 crowns a year in view of hiking it to over 10,000 by the end of his government’s term in office. Mr. Sobotka pointed out that the fact that the minimum wage had not been raised in six years was highly demotivating. He said the hikes would naturally be consulted in advance with trade unions and employers.
Environmental activists have criticized the government for failing to provide guarantees in its policy programme against the lifting of limits imposed on brown coal mining in north Bohemia. Representatives of Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth said they were deeply discouraged by the fact that the new centre-left administration had vetoed a proposal by the environment minister, Richard Brabec, to protect villages in the north from the threat of industrial expansion. The mining limits were imposed in the early 1990s and have frequently come under attack from politicians and industry leaders who argue that at a time of growing unemployment jobs should be a top priority.
With unemployment having reached an all-time high in January the authorities are looking for ways to create new jobs in the worst-affected regions. One of the projects in the pipeline, discussed at a conference in the Senate this week, are state-supported personal and household services which have played an integral role in the recovery of the employment market in many other EU member states.
The new government is planning to amend its programme statement to take on board comments from union leaders and employers, the prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, said after a tripartite meeting with both groups on Tuesday. Following the talks, the president of the Confederation of Industry, Jaroslav Hanák, said it was still unclear how the coalition aimed to finance its plans. The cabinet aims to approve its programme on Wednesday before seeking confidence in the Chamber of Deputies on February 18.
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