The Global State of Workers' Rights - Czech Republic
|Publication Date||31 August 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, The Global State of Workers' Rights - Czech Republic, 31 August 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4fc802c.html [accessed 14 July 2014]|
The country's Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms was accepted as part of Czechoslovakia's 1992 constitutional order and remains in force in the Czech Republic, guaranteeing labor rights as well as economic, cultural, and social freedoms. Worker rights are regulated by a labor code adopted in 1965. While the code has been amended since its enactment, particularly to bring it into conformity with European Union (EU) regulations before the country joined in 2004, its basic framework has not been altered significantly.
Workers can freely form and join trade unions in the Czech Republic. Trade unions are the sole representatives of employees and have the authority to conduct collective bargaining. Under the labor code and accompanying legislation, trade unions are entitled to significant rights regarding access to information and co-determination, decision making, and consultation with employers. However, labor inspectors are rarely effective in investigating violations of worker rights, including employers' failure to comply with collective-bargaining agreements or meet their obligations to consult and share information with union officers.
Activities undertaken by trade unions cannot be restricted by law unless they threaten the security of the state or restrict the freedoms of other citizens. Employers are not permitted to obstruct employees from joining unions or favor one union over another. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, but workers at times face threats of contract termination or wage reductions for union activities, and pressure to renounce labor union membership has been reported. For example, in 2008 the Trade Union of Catering, Hotel, and Tourism Workers alleged that CPI Hotels was only employing workers in its new hotel chain if they gave up their union membership.
The state may not involve itself in the constitution of trade unions, nor is it permitted to interfere in their management or operations. The Ministry of the Interior is responsible for ensuring that trade unions are not involved in political or business activities, and the unions are required to declare their independence from political relationships.
Czechs may assemble peacefully. Workers, including foreign and migrant workers, have the right to strike, but only after mediation efforts have failed. Unions must provide employers with the names of strikers one day before a scheduled strike. While a 40-hour workweek, two days of rest per week, and a 30-minute break in each eight-hour day are required by law, these standards are not always applied to foreign workers, who have complained of biased treatment. Judges, prosecutors, policemen, soldiers, and other security force personnel cannot strike. Employees working in strategic industries – such as nuclear power, health care, and air-traffic control – have access to mediation but face limitations on their right to strike.
A new labor law that took effect in January 2007 eliminated several restrictions on freedom of association. However, trade unions within each company are now required to act together in collective bargaining.
The Czech-Moravian Trade Union Confederation (CMKOS) is the main confederation of unions in the Czech Republic. Only 17 percent of the workforce was unionized as of mid-2009, signaling a continued decline in trade union density. In March 2009, the CMKOS criticized draft amendments to the labor code put forward by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, claiming the changes would negatively affect worker rights and collective-bargaining procedures. The CMKOS also denounced President Vaclav Klaus's insistence on a provision in the EU's Lisbon Treaty that would allow the country to opt out of the bloc's Charter of Fundamental Rights, arguing that the loophole could lead to the denial of workers' rights.
A recent Survey of International Labor Law published by Deloitte found that Czech labor laws are among the strictest in Europe. Termination provisions were not revised in the 2007 labor law and date back to 1965. Workers whose performance is under review must be given time to improve, followed by two months' notice before termination. In order to dismiss a worker, employers must find a legally approved reason and provide severance payments of up to three months' salary.
During the recent economic recession, employers have been seeking ways to reduce costs while adhering to the labor code. In 2009, trade unions, employers, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs worked together on a proposal to avoid massive layoffs by shortening the workweek. Employers have also asked employees to take unpaid leaves of absence, or altered hours and working schedules. The strict labor laws have forced many employers to seek legal counsel during the economic crisis to negotiate with employees. In some cases, employers have negotiated with unions to cut wages by up to 20 percent. However, employers have generally been criticized for their failure to follow through on agreements made with unions.
In 2008, a nationwide strike was undertaken by more than a million workers to protest government plans to reform the tax, health care, and pension systems. Faced with increasing unemployment rates, both employers and union members seem to agree that the labor code must be revised.