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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Czech Republic

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Czech Republic, 11 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52caf31e.html [accessed 22 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 10,200,000
Capital: Prague
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

The Constitutional Court repealed several provisions of the 2007 Labour Code, thereby setting trade union rights a few years back. Economic difficulties have been making workers particularly vulnerable to anti-union harassment.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Basic Freedoms, which forms part of the Czech Constitution, guarantees the right of everyone to associate freely with others to protect economic and social interests.

The law guarantees the right to organise and provides for protection from anti-union discrimination. Foreigners and migrant workers also have the right to organise. Trade union members cannot be employed in the intelligence services.

Labour Code partly repealed and trade union rights weakened: The Labour Code came into force in January 2007. While the ITUC-affiliated Czech-Moravian Trade Union Confederation (CMKOS) saw the Code as a fair balance between the interests of business and labour, the employers were less enthusiastic.

On 12 March 2008, the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic discussed a petition lodged by a group of right-wing politicians to repeal a number of provisions of the Labour Code. 11 of the more than 30 legal rules in question were repealed by the court.

As a result, the majority trade unions at company level no longer enjoy preferential collective bargaining rights. If there are several trade unions at a workplace and agreement cannot be reached on a bargaining procedure, it is not possible in practice to conclude a collective agreement. Also, employers are now free to impose workplace regulations unilaterally. Trade unions have lost their right to monitor the observance of labour laws at the workplace, and their rights pertaining to health and safety at work are significantly curbed.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is now preparing a set of amendments to the Labour Code, aimed at further deregulating employment relations. While the working group does include experts nominated by both workers' and employers' organisations, no official tripartite consultations have so far taken place. CMKOS opposes the changes, as they are likely to further weaken trade unions' role in the workplace.

Right to collective bargaining: The new Labour Code only stipulates the minimum level of workers' rights and the maximum level of their obligations, which any agreement should respect. All other aspects of the employment relationship are left to the discretion of workers, employers and their organisations. Collective bargaining in the public sector must take account of the budget limitations. There is little scope for negotiation on pay, and paid leave may not be a subject for bargaining.

Right to strike: The right to strike is guaranteed, except for judges, prosecutors and members of the armed and security forces.

Strikes are prohibited in certain essential services, which include some sectors – such as nuclear energy and oil and natural gas pipelines – that do not conform to the ILO definition of such services (i.e. that their interruption would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population).

The Act on Collective Bargaining establishes a majority requirement of two-thirds of the votes cast by the workers (subject to the quorum requirement of 50% of workers concerned by the agreement) before a strike can take place.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The Government's plans on tax, pension and healthcare reforms provoked large-scale trade union protests. The trade union action culminated in a nationwide strike involving more than one million people. The country was hit hard by economic recession, with unemployment rising sharply before the end of the year.

Fear and pressure: CMKOS reports that employers are taking advantage of precarious economic conditions to force trade unions out of workplaces. Unclear laws on remuneration allow the management to manipulate workers' salary grades and to cut wages and various bonuses. Redundancies followed by the rehiring of workers under contracts that do not fall under labour law is a growing trend. Fearing dismissal or wage reductions, workers are being pressured into leaving trade unions. Union leaders on the shop floor are asked to either give up their trade union activities or to leave their jobs. Certain employers have openly opposed establishing trade unions in their companies.

Labour inspectorates are not much help when it comes to enforcing trade union rights, since their scope for applying financial sanctions on employers is restricted. The law gives labour inspectorates discretion to decide whether to investigate workplace problems, which means that labour inspectors are not always willing to investigate cases of non-compliance with collective bargaining agreements or to investigate employers' failure to engage in a process of information and consultation with trade unions.

Obligations neglected: During the collective bargaining process, employers often agree to cooperate with trade unions, but do not follow through on these commitments later. For example, employers may fail to invite trade union representatives to management meetings or ignore contractual and legislative provisions on the information and consultation rules. Refusals to provide trade unions with technical facilities, as stipulated in a collective agreement, were also reported.

No time off for workers' representatives: There were cases of employers refusing to allow trade union representatives paid time off for fulfilling their duties, which is provided for by law. Members of European works councils, who are not expressly mentioned in the list of workers' representatives in the Labour Code, are either not allowed to take time off for participating in necessary training, or have to take unpaid leave of absence.

Hotels where unions are not welcome: The former chairwoman of the trade union committee of OREA HOTELS (the largest hotel chain in the country) has been consistently harassed by her employer, Pyramida hotel in Prague. The management's pressure, related to the woman's professional duties as well as her trade union activities, led to severe health problems, ultimately to partial incapacity for work. The CMKOS-affiliated Trade Union of Catering, Hotel and Tourism workers (OSPHCR) was preparing a lawsuit.

Another leading hotel group, CPI hotels, marked its acquisition of Cernigiv Hotel in Hradec Kralove by clearly indicating to all trade union members and officers that their employment would be conditional on their leaving the union. The local OSPHCR organisation had to terminate its activities on 7 March.

Serious problems in the public sector: Two of the CMKOS affiliates, the Trade Union of the Health Service and Social Care (OSZSP) and the Czech-Moravian Trade Union of Workers in Education (OSPS) have been facing serious problems. From the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Health stopped sending the draft regulations on the forthcoming healthcare reform and other relevant documents to OSZSP for consultation. Trade union own-initiative observations on draft amendments are routinely ignored.

OSPS reported multiple cases of harassment of its members in one of the primary schools. Collective and individual employment agreements were violated, employees were treated abrasively, with some being dismissed or having their salaries cut, and the trade union organisation was basically treated with contempt.

Other violations: The transport company HOPI Ltd. transferred two of the three members of the trade union committee from the international to the domestic transport section, which resulted in a loss of earnings. Later all three received an official warning concerning breaches of work-related legal rules. The unionists were warned that they could face disciplinary measures or dismissal. This happened shortly after a trade union had been formed.

CMKOS reported that several employers challenged the validity of trade unions that had been established according to the law. The validity of one trade union federation's constitution was also called into question.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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