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Czech state employees protest government austerity

Czech state employees protest government austerity

Thousands of angry state employees walked off the job Wednesday across the Czech Republic to protest salary cuts, forcing the closure of hundreds of schools and government offices in what union leaders claimed was one of the largest protests in 20 years.
Hospitals were offering limited services, though public transportation was not affected. Government offices and other institutions were partially or completely shut down, including the capital's National Library, State Opera and National Theater.
The strike, backed by the country's major umbrella union organization and the left-wing opposition, was aimed at a government plan to slash public sector pay by 10 percent as part of package of austerity measures. The union estimated that some 123,000 workers joined the protest in major cities.
Labor Ministry spokeswoman Viktorie Plivova said no official figures were available.
Some police officers and firefighters, who are banned by law from striking, joined the rallies and announced separate demonstrations for Dec 15.
The center-right government wants to reduce the country's budget deficit from 5.3 percent of gross domestic product this year to 4.6 percent next year. The measures, already approved by Parliament, are similar to those adopted by other European countries grappling with the financial crisis.
The government wants to eliminate the deficit by 2016, a plan that received positive reactions from rating agencies, but not from labor unions.
"This government has decided to carry out cuts and austerity measures at the expense of people," Jaroslav Zavadil, head of the union, told a whistle-blowing and flag-waving crowd. "Shame on them!"
"Our salaries are low," said Petr Pergl, a 59-year-old cellist from the State Opera's orchestra, who participated in the demonstration. After 35 years, his net salary is 19,000 koruna ($1,000) a month, he said.
"It's a disaster for us to have them cut by 10 percent," Pergl said.
Prime Minister Petr Necas has stood firm on the cuts; he accused the unions Wednesday of "playing political games that could destabilize both the economy and the country."
President Vaclav Klaus said he understood why the employees were against the cuts but said they "are an absolute necessity at the moment."
Unions have threatened to organize further protests, including a general strike, if their demands were not met.


Updated : 2021-10-19 10:32 GMT+08:00