Tripartite agreement on short-term anti-crisis measures

At a tripartite meeting on 2 February 2010, the government and social partners agreed on a document consisting of 38 suggestions for short-term measures and ways of dealing with the economic crisis. Despite some dispute among government ministers, the government finally adopted the document during its session on 8 February 2010.

At a tripartite session of the social partners on 21 January 2010, the government presented a document focusing on the cabinet’s policies envisaged for leading the country’s way out of the economic crisis. However, the government largely failed to reach an agreement on its proposals with employers and trade union leaders. According to trade union leaders, the document excessively favoured efforts to achieve a balanced budget and did not lend enough support to stimulating economic growth. The Chair of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (Českomoravská konfederace odborových svazů, ČMKOS), Milan Štěch, stated: ‘The strive for fiscal equilibrium must, however, go in parallel with fiscal support for economic growth.’ According to Prime Minister Jan Fischer, the document is based on the assumption that the government sees healthy public finances as a condition for the restoration of economic growth, which means reducing the public budget deficit. Speaking about the government’s proposals, Prime Minister Fischer commented: ‘It would be an illusion to assume that in this regard a general agreement will be reached.’

Final agreement reached

At a subsequent tripartite meeting on 2 February 2010, the government and social partners agreed on 38 measures, which cover a wide range of economic and political aspects, such as the following:

  • a measure preventing misuse of unemployment benefits;
  • preparation of possible actions for a gradual reduction of taxation difference between self-employed workers and salaried employees;
  • an increase in the credibility of the banking system;
  • a possibility for the construction of so-called ‘social’ housing – rental housing for low-income groups of the population;
  • measures in power industry politics;
  • accelerated use of finance from the European Union’s structural and cohesion funds;
  • measures to combat corruption;
  • a follow-up to the educational programmes ‘Training is a chance’ and ‘Educate yourselves’;
  • a reduction of the administrative and financial burden on entrepreneurs.

Specific items will be under the responsibility of relevant ministries, in cooperation with representatives of trade unions and employers. Employers consider most important those measures that are associated with investment activities – for instance, a complex renovation of the Prunéřov coal-fired power plant in northwestern Bohemia, support for completing construction of the third and fourth units of the Temelín atomic power plant in southern Bohemia, and also creating conditions for a final decision on the construction of weirs on the Elbe river. Another proposal is to define a faster and simpler procedure for accessing funding from the European structural funds. The social partners have agreed on these measures.

Various measures extended

After criticism from the Confederation of Industry of the Czech Republic (Svaz průmyslu a dopravy České republiky, SP ČR), various measures have been extended by introducing provisions concerning faster access to EU funding and acceleration of drawing on funds from the ‘Green Savings’ programme. This programme supports heating installations using renewable energy sources and also investment in energy savings in reconstruction projects and new buildings. It is financed from the sale of emission credits under the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.

Prime Minister Fischer stated: ‘This is a signal that social dialogue in this country is at a good level.’ The Chair of ČMKOS, Mr Štěch, noted: ‘It is important that we have demonstrated the ability to reach an agreement.’ According to the Vice-President of SP ČR, Jaroslav Hanák, trade unions, employers and the government can agree on short-term measures that do not require legislative changes. These include, for example, employment support or faster access to funds from the EU.

Some ministers argue against measures

However, debates on the documents presented at the government session on 8 February 2010 involved some dispute. Both the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities, Michael Kocáb, and the Minister of Environment, Jan Dusík, who were nominated to the government by the Green Party (Strana zelených, SZ), were against the reconstruction of the Prunéřov power plant, completion of construction at Temelín and canalisation of the Elbe river. According to Prime Minister Fischer, ‘regarding the tripartite agreement, all of the ministers voted “yes” except for the two who have a serious problem with the aforementioned issues’. Minister Dusík commented: ‘A potential completion of the construction of the Temelín plant is planned to start within the next few years at the earliest. Therefore, I consider the outcome of the tripartite talks a powerful political declaration of economic and social partnership, not a contribution to resolving the current economic crisis.’ Nevertheless, the document was finally approved by the government. According to Mr Štěch of ČMKOS, the main tasks will remain the responsibility of the government, which will be decided by the outcome of the next parliamentary elections on 28–29 May 2010.

Soña Verveková, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs (RILSA)

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