Czechs Protest Against Pension Revamp by Cost-Cutting Government

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Czechs took to the streets to protest against planned changes to the pension system that may include raising the retirement age to rein in budget spending.

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Labor unions said about 2,000 people marched in front of the cabinet building in central Prague on Wednesday, and the CTK newswire cited a police estimate of several thousand. The leader of the largest opposition party, billionaire former Premier Andrej Babis, and officials from far-left and far-right groups also endorsed the demonstration.

While smaller in size and intensity, the demonstration echoed the backlash in France, were workers have paralyzed transport, utilities, air travel and other parts of the economy over President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to overhaul the pension system, including raising the minimum retirement age by two years to 64.

The criticism in the Czech Republic focused mainly on an idea floated by Finance Minister Zbynek Stanjura to raise the retirement age to as high as 68, from 65, for people who are now 40 years old or younger. The ruling coalition has already pushed through a bill that changes the formula for automatic inflation-linked increases in pensions to save money.

“If someone wishes to escalate this, then there won’t be enough buses in this country to bring us here and we’ll fill up all of Prague,” said Jaroslav Povsik, the head of the unions at Volkswagen AG’s unit Skoda Auto, the largest Czech manufacturing company and the country’s biggest exporter.

Earlier this month, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala’s center-right government approved a bill to slow the growth of pension payments as it seeks to meet its promise to cut pandemic-era budget deficits.

President Petr Pavel signed the bill into law, but said he said he had doubts whether the measure is constitutional and backed the opposition’s call for a review by the Constitutional Court.

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