Public sector employees in the Czech Republic took a day off work on Wednesday to protest plans to cut their wages; a move the government says is crucial to cutting the budget deficit.
Czech public sector workers are angry over wage cuts
An estimated 150,000 Czech public sector workers held a one-day strike across the country to voice their opposition to the center-right government's plans to slash their salaries by ten percent.
A series of nationwide rallies organized by Czech labor unions accompanied the one-day strike action with union leaders saying that more than 120,000 members had heeded the call for the work stoppage.
Union leader Jaroslav Zavadil said tax officials, librarians, museum guides, public administrators, court workers and teachers joined the protests. Five hundred schools were closed and dozens of hospitals were only treating emergency cases.
Turnout lower than expected
But the turnout was much lower than the hundreds of thousands in previous years, which Zavadil blamed on the wintry weather.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas has introduced painful austerity measures
“We didn't expect thousands to attend the demonstrations; that wasn't our goal. We just wanted symbolic rallies in all the major cities. But some 123,000 did go on strike and another 85,000 supported them. So I think if you look at those numbers, this was a very important strike indeed,” Zavadil said.
Despite the strike, the coalition government of Prime Minister Petr Necas has remained firm in the face of union threats and Wednesday's strike. The government argues that there is broad support among the public for essential budget cuts, something echoed by Czech President Vaclav Klaus.
“We got ourselves into this situation after a decade of borrowing, so the cuts, at this moment in time, are absolutely essential. Everyone in this country knows it; and I am 100 percent convinced that even the union bosses know this,” Klaus said.
The government is aiming to reduce the national deficit to 4.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 and reach the European Union three percent ceiling by 2013.
Author: Rob Cameron, Prague (gb)
Editor: Susan Houlton