Czech Unions Urge October Demonstration Against Energy Prices, Wages

Czech labour unions called on Monday for a mass demonstration against soaring energy and food prices while seeking sharp pay hikes to match, as pressure mounted on the centre-right government to do more to rein in a growing energy crisis.

Europe is facing a difficult winter as falling gas supplies from Russia have spiked the price of the commodity, which in turn is boosting electricity prices and causing utility bills to surge severalfold.

Food prices are also rising, and inflation is at a three-decade high and the fourth-highest in te European Union.

The Czech government, like others, is scrambling to help vulnerable households and firms, but is facing mounting pressure to act quicker.

On Saturday, around 70,000 attended a protest in Prague called by organisers from far-right or fringe political groups – a stark warning of how quickly political instability could rise.

Union groups announced their own demonstration for Oct. 8, the first major action in a decade.

“We are not happy with the current situation… We are not extremists, or anything like that; we are people that are afraid of the future for people,” Josef Stredula, head of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, said.

“Come and let’s show (them) together what we think,” added Stredula, who is also a candidate for presidential elections due early next year.

Czech real wages fell 9.8% year-on-year in the second quarter, the fastest drop in decades, as inflation cut sharply into people’s paychecks.

Anger is rising along with energy bills, and households are starting to cut back on spending. The economy is likely to fall into recession in the second half of this year as demand cools.

Potential strong wage demands are also in the sights of the central bank, which has raised interest rates by 675 basis points since June 2021 but left the base rate at 7.00% – its highest since 1999 – at its meeting in August. It was the first meeting under a new board led by Governor Ales Michl who had opposed policy tightening in the past year.

Michl said in a Twitter post on Monday that, to get inflation down, a wage inflation spiral had to be prevented.

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