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Czech Gov't Agency for Social Inclusion threatens strike

5.5.2015 17:35
Martin Šimáček. (PHOTO: Lukáš Houdek)
Martin Šimáček. (PHOTO: Lukáš Houdek)

The staff of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion is concerned, now that its director Martin Šimáček has been removed, that the Agency will become politicized and will be incapable of fulfilling its obligations. They say they consider their negotiations to date with Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier, under whose remit the Agency falls, to have been unsatisfactory.

The staff are threatening to strike and even to quit en masse. They have called on Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka to join the negotiations about the future of the Agency; news server Romea.cz publishes the staff's statement in full translation below:

Staff of the Agency for Social Inclusion of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic announce strike

We, the employees of the  Agency for Social Inclusion of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, with the support of the Independent Unions of Employees of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, went on strike alert on 29 April 2015. We are publicizing this move as of today.  

We are taking this step in response to the unsatisfactory results of our negotiations with Minister for Human Rights, Legislation and Equal Opportunities Jiří Dienstbier and Deputy Minister Martina Štěpánková. We continue to be concerned that the politicization of the Agency will continue (see three of the five reasons Martin Šimáček was removed) and will be unable to fulfill its obligations flowing from Government Resolution No. 85/2008, which established the Agency, and from the two extensive projects the Agency is currently implementing.  

At this moment the Agency is working in 36 municipalities, where it is helping design local social inclusion strategies and plan the expenditure of monies for those purposes. At the beginning of this funding period the Agency is supposed to ensure the coordinated, transparent use of up to CZK 10 billion from the European Structural and Investment Funds in anywhere between 70 to 80 micro-regions and municipalities throughout the Czech Republic.  

Our long-term experience from the field and these current developments confirms that the issue of social inclusion requires an inter-ministerial approach that exceeds the human rights framework. That is why we have called on Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka to personally enter these negotiations and provide a guarantee of the autonomy of the Agency for Social Inclusion independent of the Human Rights Section and the Human Rights Minister.  

If this situation does not change, we are prepared to go on strike next week. In the localities, we are now confronted on a daily basis with the results of the crisis that has been induced by the removal of the director, and we cannot fulfill our obligations and tasks, as the Agency is not represented during important negotiations with the ministries and Regional Authorities by a person who is sufficiently familiar with its work.  

We have received dozens of communications from representatives of municipalities, nonprofit organizations and other partners expressing their disagreement with the changes taking place in the Agency and expressing concern about its future development. We have delivered a summary of all of the Agency's obligations to Minister Dienstbier and Deputy Minister Štěpánková, and we have sent a letter on this issue to the Prime Minister and to the head of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, Pavel Dvořák.

From the negotiations so far we have had with the Minister and Deputy Minister, we have realized that they are not aware of the extent of the Agency's obligations, that they are belittling them, and that they are not creating the conditions for their fulfillment. Moreover, nothing indicates that the destabilization of the Agency will end any time soon.

The current critical situation in the Agency is a consequence of the Minister and Deputy Minister's decision to remove the director from his position and divide the Agency into two separate departments within the Human Rights Section. This is a political decision that is in direct contravention of the need to ensure the Agency has the conditions it requires for its work, which should not be primarily influenced by political changes in government.  

This need is based, among other things, on the fact that the Agency collaborates with ministries, municipalities and Regional Authorities that are themselves led by the representatives of a wide range of political parties. We hereby warn that the leadership of the Agency and other key staffers cannot continue to be personally responsible for any failures to fulfill the Agency's obligations and are prepared to end their employment relationships with the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic unless, during this time of strike alert or during an eventual strike, all of the conditions mentioned above that are key to the Agency's work are ensured (i.e., there is a guarantee of autonomy).  

The destabilization of the Agency, or its demise, would sharply change the approach taken by politicians toward social inclusion at all levels. In the towns and villages in particular it can be presumed that this will result in a gradual deterioration of the situation in the socially excluded localities and an increase in social tensions. 

staff of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, Jiří Dienstbier, Martin Šimáček, odvolání, Strategie romské integrace do roku 2020



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