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Japanese Investors send Government A To-Do List

The Czech Republic's growing community of Japanese investors flexed its muscle last week in a letter to Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, calling on the government to address problems in the country's business environment.

The main problem addressed in the letter sent by Shokokai, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was the ever contentious issue of sick leave. But it also focused on a lack of qualified labor, the scarcity of Japanese speakers (see related story), problems with inflexible and unhelpful customs offices, difficulties in obtaining visas for Japanese managers and deficiencies in the country's electrical grid.

Representatives of Shokokai and the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) stressed last week that overall, Japanese investors are satisfied with the Czech Republic and that more are likely to invest here, but the letter to Spidla was meant to highlight issues that should be resolved.

The letter coincided with the visit to Prague last week of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and his robot chum Asimo and received pretty heavy coverage in the Czech press. So far, 119 Japanese firms have invested $2.3 billion in the Czech Republic and employ almost 25,000 people. Fifty-five of those firms, employing 10,000 people, are represented by Shokokai.

Of the eight points listed in their letter, by far the most pressing is that of sick leave, said Ondrej Votruba, assistant to Takeshi Mizuno, vice president of Shokokai and secretary general of JETRO's Prague office. The average sick leave rate in the EU is 4 percent, while in the Czech Republic it is more than triple that at 14 percent.

The amendment proposes paying workers just 25 percent of their salaries for the first three days of illness then 90 percent up until the end of the third week, as opposed to 100 percent for the first 14 days under the current system.

(PBJ 25.viii.03)

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