Border agents seek layoff compensation

MANY Czechs are speculating that European Union accession will have a negative impact on their livelihoods. The country's roadside customs agents know it.

At the moment, some 5,200 workers monitor goods crossing into the country at highway checkpoints. Come May 1, about 3,000 of them will lose their jobs.

The country's entry into the single EU market, with its loosening of restrictions on the movement of freight across Czech borders, means far less demand for the agents, who currently clear more than 60 percent of goods entering the country over land. And they are refusing to go quietly.

The agents, employees of private firms contracted by the state, are demanding compensation for the newly redundant workers. Late last month they responded to the government's refusal by staging a one-day work stoppage at eight checkpoints.

Following Czech labour law, each dismissed agent will receive compensation in the form of two months' salary. The customs union is seeking an additional Kč90 million (€2.7 million) from the government to extend the compensation by three months.

The EU accession will also cut a wide swath through the ranks of state-employed customs clerks. More than a quarter of the 9,440 staffers at the 54 of the 91 closed offices will lose their jobs by the end of 2005. 80 percent of the layoffs will occur this year.

The Slovak Spectator edited these articles for length and style

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