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Most of the Czech Gov't Agency for Social Inclusion staff to strike Monday

7.5.2015 19:28
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (right) at a meeting in July 2014 with Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (PHOTO:  Government of the Czech Republic)
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (right) at a meeting in July 2014 with Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (PHOTO: Government of the Czech Republic)

Most of the staffers of the Czech Government't Agency for Social Inclusion will strike on Monday. Of the Agency's 70 employees and sub-contractors, 59 will begin the strike.

The staffers are demanding autonomy and independence for their institution, which now falls under the remit of Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party - ČSSD). They want to negotiate directly with Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD).

Petr Čáp, vice-chair of the Independent Trade Unions of the Employees of the Office of the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic informed the Czech News Agency about the strike today. The staffers were originally going to wait until Monday to decide whether to strike or not. 

Their decision was accelerated by today's meeting with Dienstbier, which has not yet produced any results. The minister told the Czech News Agency after the meeting that he had not heard from the dissatisfied employees any concrete aims of their strike that he might be able to fulfill for them.  

"We are beginning our strike on Monday. This is the last call. We are concerned that the entire leadership will leave and the days will be over when the Agency works according to the current principles. We are seeking autonomy, continuity, and transparency," Čáp said.

The Agency is just one of the departments at the Office of the Government for which Dienstbier is responsible. The dispute between the Agency and the minister was sparked his recent removal of its head, Martin Šimáček.

Their disagreements concern the use of EU money, the monitoring of the Agency's effectiveness in integrating Romani people, and the planned reorganization of the Agency. "The Agency as we have known it and as it has worked for years would cease to exist," Čáp said.

The leadership of the Agency and some other employees are considering quitting altogether. The protesting staffers would like to negotiate directly with the Prime Minister. 

Sobotka, however, expressed support for Dienstbier just two days ago. He said that while the unions have the right to protest and strive for the best possible working conditions, they cannot expect to make personnel decisions, as those are the responsibility of the members of the Government or high-level bureaucrats entrusted with them. 

The Prime Minister also said he does not believe that removing the Agency from the Office of the Government and making it autonomous is necessary for it to function effectively and help the needy. Dienstbier said the creation of a new office would require the adoption of a law. 

"Even if we were to agree and submit a bill, it would take at least a year for it to take effect. Moreover, I have enormous doubts that there would be the political will in the Government or in Parliament to establish a new office," the minister said.

Dienstbier also previously said it would not be possible to turn the Agency into a separate, state-funded organization. Allegedly it would not be possible to raise EU money for its operations in that case.

The minister also pointed out that even a separate, state-funded agency would still be an institution working for the Government. "Such an institution works on the basis of political tasks. If someone wants to work for the Government, he cannot be totally apolitical and independent," Dienstbier said.

The strike committee will meet to determine the next steps the Agency staffers will take. A workshop is also scheduled to take place on the relationship between bureaucrats, experts and politicians.

"We want to discuss whether a bureaucrat can have his or her own opinion and innovations to the state administration," Čáp said. He did not rule out the possibility that future meetings with the minister might result in progress. 

Today's meeting lasted roughly three hours but ended with no result. The parties to the dispute were unable to reach any agreement.

The minister chose Czeslaw Walek as the intermediary, but he did not succeed either. Walek previously worked for the Office of the Government, at which time he contributed to the creation of the concept behind the Agency.  

The staffers, however, refused to accept him as the mediator of the dispute. Dienstbier says he is still willing to negotiate further, but that "the moment will come" when he will have to ensure the work of the Agency continues.

Previously the minister mentioned that personnel changes would be unavoidable. He has shelved discussion of the reorganization of the Agency for the time being.  

Because of the new law on civil service, the minister had originally planned to split the Agency into two departments, one to focus on drafting measures and drawing EU funds and another to concentrate on working in the regions with ghettos. Now he says he wants to discuss these changes with the staff.  

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, Jiří Dienstbier, Martin Šimáček, Strategie romské integrace do roku 2020



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