16 Jun 2011

Transport strike paralyses Prague

The union protest that started at midnight has paralysed public transport in Prague and the underground (metro) has been stopped for the first time ever. A mere 40 percent of trams and 20 percent of buses operated in the capital as of 5am.
Public transport has also been hit in the regional capitals of Brno, Olomouc, Usti and Labem. The strike was called in protest against the government´s proposed reforms of the pension, healthcare, welfare and tax systems. It has been organised by the Coalition of Transport Unions (KDOS) that encompasses 13 union branches. In Prague unions will march on the Finance Ministry and the Government Office where they plan to place straw bales.

Unions representing Prague city transit staff say the proposed reforms will do away with their annual travel pass, cancel meal tickets worth around Kč 10,080 a year, raise pension payments by an annual Kč 6,000 and wipe out another around 110 perks and benefits. Taxes on wages will rise from 15 percent to 19 percent, health insurance increase by 1 percentage point to 6.5 percent and value-added tax rise from 10 percent to 14 percent in 2012 and then to a single rate of 17.5 percent in 2013. In return, they say Kalousek is offering compensation of around Kč 3,000.
One high-profile victim of the strike is President Václav Klaus, who was forced to cancel a special reception for personalities and diplomats at his Prague Castle seat on Thursday to mark his 70th birthday. Klaus bitterly attacked the strike action and said strikers should be fired.
Historically, the strike looks like one of the biggest protest actions by workers in the Central European country since the end of communism in 1989. Czech unions are not usually prone to work stoppages or taking on the government head on.

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