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

The year was characterised by the controversy over the draft Labour Code, which the trade unions supported but many right-wing politicians opposed. The new Code, which was due to come into force on 1 January 2007, abolishes several restrictions on freedom of association and gives a greater role to collective bargaining. The trade unions experienced many problems with organising during the year, particularly in the hotel and catering sector, but progress was made in an important case involving the Plus Discount Ltd. supermarket chain, where a collective agreement was signed in August.

Trade union rights in law

The law guarantees the right to organise and provides for protection from anti-union discrimination. There are no legal restrictions on the registration of trade unions or on international cooperation and affiliation. Foreigners and migrant workers also have the right to organise.

The law provides for works' councils in workplaces where there is no union representation, and these works' councils provide all workers with the right to information and consultation regarding major company decisions. The legislation on works' councils prohibits discrimination because of membership of the works' council, or any activity resulting from membership.

New Labour Code adopted: The new Labour Code, passed in April 2006, provides a greater role for collective bargaining. Its adoption was uncertain due to the opposition of right-wing politicians, who claimed that the Code would give workers and trade unions "excessive" rights. The Czech-Moravian Trade Union Confederation (CMKOS, affiliated to the ITUC) supported the Code from the preparatory stage and considers that a fair balance between liberalisation of the labour market and protection of workers' rights has been achieved. Although the new Code was not due to come into force until 1 January 2007, a group of right-wing members of parliament asked the Czech Constitutional court in 2006 to abolish certain provisions of the Code, mostly related to the union's rights of intervention at the workplace. CMKOS has also submitted its views to the Constitutional court, strongly opposing the claim.

Collective bargaining: The new Labour Code opens up new opportunities for collective bargaining both in public and private sector. In contrast with the previous system, where a collective agreement could merely improve on the rights expressly provided by law, the new code only stipulates the minimum level of workers' rights and the maximum level of their obligations, which an agreement should respect. All other aspects of the employment relationship are left to the discretion of workers, employers and their organisations.

While the previous system did not leave much room for collective bargaining in the public sector, the new Code allows for many more issues to be covered by collective bargaining. However, the limitations of the state budget must be respected, and so there is little scope for negotiation on pay, and paid leave may not be a subject for bargaining.

Right to strike: Strikes are prohibited in certain essential services, but the list of these covers 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 amendments to the law on collective bargaining under the new Labour Code have abolished a few provisions incompatible with the ILO standards, such as the rule whereby a strike should be supported by one half of all employees covered by the intended collective agreement. The new system stipulates a 50 per cent quorum and a two thirds majority vote requirement to call a strike, and trade unions are no longer required to provide employers with a list of names.

Trade union rights in practice

In practice, there are frequent cases of violations of trade union rights, such as harassment of trade unionists by employers, that clearly undermine freedom of association, especially in newly established companies. On repeated occasions, employers in the trade sector have exerted both direct (verbal) and indirect pressure on employees who either seek to establish, or are members of, a trade union. Employers also exert strong pressure on employees to dissolve existing trade unions or to resign their membership.

Violations in 2006

Background: After the inconclusive elections in June 2006, the new Prime Minister Jan Topolanek had the task of balancing the interests of the leftist and centre-right blocks, who enjoyed equal representation in the Parliament. The right-wing minority government resigned in October, with the new centre-right coalition emerging. Although the country has experienced unprecedented economic growth, the average salary growth has been the lowest since 1992. In August Mittal Steel Ostrava announced that at least 1,000 jobs would be cut in 2006. Several strikes took place throughout the year.

Resistance to organising: The CMKOS reports that forming a trade union in hotel and catering companies has been extremely difficult, regardless of the company ownership. The situation is particularly tough in Austrian (for example Vienna International, Radisson SAS Alcron) or Italian companies (for example Boscolo Hotels s.r.o.), but there were also cases of anti-union behaviour in French companies (e.g. Accor).

Improvement in the supermarket chain: The situation in the Plus Discount Ltd. supermarket chain (belonging to the German supermarket chain Tengelmann), described in last year's survey, has been very difficult. However, the persistence of the OSPO trade union (affiliated to UNI-commerce) finally paid off. Following the trade union's criticism of the local management, a UNI-commerce letter to the Tengelmann headquarters, and a local demonstration, a collective agreement was signed in August 2006.

Problems in a furniture company: The KIKA furniture company launched an anti-trade union campaign, ignoring trade union statutory rights and avoiding collective bargaining in every possible way.

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