Trade unionists demonstrate against civil servant pay cuts

Thousands demonstrated in Prague on 21 September 2010 against civil service pay cuts. The demonstration was organised by the Independent Trade Union of the Police Corps in the Czech Republic and supported by opposition politicians. Trade unionists expected about 20,000 people, but twice that number attended (45,000 according to union estimates). The Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, warned trade unionists ‘will go on a collision course’ over pay cuts.

Government wage bill leads to unrest among civil servants

Demonstrators were protesting against planned pay cuts for public and state employees including clerks, police officers and firefighters, following government plans to reduce the funds allocated to civil servants by 10% next year. This is likely to mean not only wage reductions but also job losses. The protest was also joined by healthcare, transport and school employees, among others, who dislike the upcoming amendment of the Labour Code affecting pay and rewards. By changing the reward system the government wants to save CZK 21 billion (about €856 million as at 13 Oct 2010). The wages bill should decrease by 10%–34%.

The demonstration was organised by the Independent Trade Union of the Police Corps in the Czech Republic (NOS PČR) but many other Czech trade unions participated – 11 affiliated unions of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (ČMKOS), including the Czech-Moravian Trade Union of Workers in Education (ČMOS PŠ), the Trade Union of Firefighters (OSH), the Trade Union of Health Service and Social Care in the Czech Republic (OSZSP), the Trade Union of State Bodies and Organisations (STATORG) and seven other trade unions and other initiatives, including the Trade Union of Employees of Financial Authorities (OSZFO).

Unions receive support of opposition parties

At the demonstration, trade union representatives made speeches and were supported by opposition politicians. Zdeněk Oberreiter, Chair of OSH, said trade unionists do not consider it fair that deficit reduction should be achieved through the contribution of only one group – the civil servants. ‘These radical cuts will endanger citizens’ security,’ he warned.

Alena Vondrová, Chair of STATORG, said civil servants without whom the state could not operate are regarded almost as second-rate citizens. In her opinion, the danger of poverty and ‘middle class devastation’ is imminent due to the cuts.

Among politicians who came to hear the speeches were Vojtěch Filip, Chair of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM), František Bublan, a former Minister of the Interior from the Czech Social Democratic Party (ČSSD), Bohuslav Sobotka, statutory Vice-Chair of ČSSD and ČSSD former chair Jiří Paroubek.

The protests were also supported by John Monks, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), of which ČMKOS is a member. He sent a message to the demonstration on behalf of the ETUC, highlighting the EU campaign ‘No to austerity – Priority for jobs and growth’. The demonstration was one of several protests organised for the European Trade Union Day of Action.

Criticism from President and government

Czech President Václav Klaus criticised protesters, saying: ‘The demonstration today will not resolve anything.’ He considers the planned government cuts to be necessary and says the crisis is a consequence of long-running irresponsible policies, when the state spent more money than it had.

Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Jaromír Drábek also commented, making the point that the 10% cut in civil service salaries is a basic component of the government programme. He said each trade union had been repeatedly asked to submit its own proposals for resolving the crisis, but instead of discussing changes, trade unions had insisted on their original view that the system did not need to be changed.

Nevertheless, the cuts are necessary, according to Prime Minister Petr Nečas. He is not planning to bow to pressure from trade unions, and promises that ‘not only cuts, but also large reforms will occur in 2012’.

Soňa Veverková, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (RILSA)

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