Before BBG meeting in Prague, Czech parliamentarian asks PM to protect rights of RFE/RL employees

BBG Watch Commentary

Snjezana Pelivan

Snjezana Pelivan, former employee suing RFE/RL in the European Court of Human Rights

Shortly before the scheduled meeting of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Prague, a deputy of the Czech Parliament Vladimira Lesenska submitted a written interpellation (inquiry), “The situation of foreign employees of Radio Free Europe,” to the Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas.
 
Such official inquiries from members of the Czech Parliament must normally be answered within one month. Because on June 17, Petr Necas resigned, the inquiry would have to be answered by his successor.

In the meantime, Ms. Lesenska, a member of the majorty Social-Democratic Party in the Czech Parliament and chairwoman of the Parliamentary Subcommittee on Labor Law and Employment, plans to hold an open hearing to investigate allegations of the denial of rights to foreign employees by the American management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in the Czech Republic.

One of the former employees suing RFE/RL in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg is a Croatian national Snjezana Pelivan. The English-language news website Croatian Times reported:

…unlike Czech employees, the Czech deputy writes, other internationals employed by RFE/RL in Prague “can be fired at any time without previous warning; for any reason or without any reason; with or without being informed of the reason for the termination of the contract; without compensation for the years of service if one refuses to accept the termination in writing and must agree not to question the decision in court. Such method of employment termination is used by RFE/RL on a regular basis.”

An Armenian journalist Anna Karapetian is suing RFE/RL in Czech courts. Despite being an outstanding journalist and employee, she was also fired without an opportunity to challenge the management’s decision. Most RFE/RL foreign employees from Central Asia and other regions in Eurasia and the Middle East cannot afford to fight in court for their rights.

A premier human rights organization in the Czech Republic, the Czech Helsinki Committee, has appealed several times to the Broadcasting Board of Governors and newly appointed RFE/RL president Kevin Klose to end discrimination against third-country employees who are denied both American and Czech labor law protections.

Ironically, some of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) top managers are also trying to use RFE/RL labor management policies in the Czech Republic as a model for dealing with BBG employees and their union in the United States. RFE/RL labor policies were put in place in the mid-1990s in an effort to prevent foreign employees from forming a union similar to the one they had in Germany when RFE/RL was headquartered in Munich. According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) surveys, IBB executives are in charge of an agency with the lowest employee morale in the federal government.

Interpellation
by the Deputy Vladimira Lesenska
to the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic Petr Necas
concerning
the Situation of Foreign Employees of the Radio Free Europe

 
Prague, 11 June 2013
 
Dear Prime Minister,
 
Please allow me to address you with following questions in regard to the problem mentioned above:
 
1. In 1995, at the invitation of President Vaclav Havel, American radio station Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) moved from Munich to Prague and settled in the building of the former Federal Assembly of Czechoslovakia for a symbolic rent of 1 Czech crown per month. The Radio is subordinate to the Federal Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington. Members of BBG are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. The BBG includes the Secretary of State ex officio(presently John Kerry). Simultaneously, BBG serves as Board of Directors for RFE/RL. RFE/RL broadcasts from Prague in 28 languages to 21 so called “target countries”, including those of the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union: Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, etc.
 
RFE/RL is the largest American civil institution abroad financed by the American Congress. The Finance Ministry of the Czech Republic has relieved all RFE/RL American employees from Czech income taxes as performing duties of governmental nature. In April 2006, former Czech Minister of Foreign Affaires Cyril Svoboda used his visit to Washington to personally present to the BBG a check of 27 million Czech crowns in order to co-finance the transfer of RFE/RL to its new building in Prague. Legal status of the BBG, as well as of RFE/RL, is defined by the U.S. International Broadcasting Act. BBG, which controls and directs all American non-military broadcasters overseas, “makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL.”
 
Along with American and Czech citizens, RFE/RL employs in Prague hundreds of foreign nationals representing the majority of its editorial personnel. All these foreigners legally work and reside in the Czech Republic, however, due to labor policies of the BBG and RFE/RL’s management, neither American nor Czech labor laws are applicable to them. Czech laws cover only their Czech colleagues. American laws and protections by American courts are not applicable to them either — as they are foreigners working for American employer abroad. They are in a legal vacuum. Such labor policies are embedded in the RFE/RL Policy Manual.Their standardized employment agreements provided by RFE/RL management to foreign personnel refer to the Manual.
 
In light of the facts here presented, does the Czech government, Mr. Prime Minister, consider the American radio station RFE/RL to be just an ordinary private enterprise to whose labor policies in the Czech Republic Czech government has nothing to say?
 
2. For instance, according  to the RFE/RL Policy Manual, a foreign woman employed by RFE/RL gets the maternity leave almost three months shorter than Czech laws provide to any female working in the Czech Republic, including her Czech colleagues at RFE/RL. Another example: unlike Czech employees, a foreigner working for RFE/RL can be fired at any time without previous warning; for whatever reason or without any reason; with or without being informed of the reason for employment termination; without severance compensation for the years of service if one refuses to accept the termination in writing and, also in writing, agrees not to question it in courts. Such method of employment termination is used by RFE/RL on a regular basis.
 
 
In your opinion, Mr. Prime Minister, does such a practice by American Radio Free Europe on the territory of Czech Republic correspond to foreign policy goals of the Governmental Coalition Agreement signed by you personally on July 12, 2010: ”We shall struggle for support of human rights as integral part of the post-revolutionary development in Czech foreign policy…  We will maintain and deepen transatlantic ties and expand cooperation with the United States in other areas?”
 
3. After twelve years of impeccable service at RFE/RL, Armenian citizen Anna Karapetian did not agree with her arbitrary termination. A Croatian national Snjezana Pelivan responded similarly to her termination. Both women appealed to courts.
 
The case of Karapetian, mother of three minor children, a Czech court will consider for the seventh time. The case of Snjezana Pelivan is in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Pelivan accuses the Czech Republic of tolerating human rights violations on its territory, violation of her right to equal treatment regardless of national origin, and failure to provide her with adequate court protection at the Czech territory. Foreign and Czech media regularly report in a  manner highly negative to the Czech Republic about Karapetian’s and Pelivan’s court cases, referring to the rightless status of RFE/RL foreign employees in Prague, and about political inactivity of the Czech government.
 
Despite repeated open appeals by Czech public organizations (for instance, the Czech Helsinki Committee) and Czech politicians, the Czech government stubbornly refuses to request American institutions to stop by peaceful resolutions the ongoing shameful for Czech Republic lawsuits and to change the RFE/RL’s labor policies that triggered these lawsuits and might lead to similar court cases in future.
 
Czech organizations and politicians did not get any answers to their direct appeals to the Department of State, to foreign affaires and policy committees of both chambers of the American Congress, and to the U.S. Helsinki Commission. This, understandably, is offensive not only from human but also from political point of view.
 
How do you, Mr. Prime Minister, explain political and diplomatic inertia of the Czech government, and how that inactivity corresponds to your Coalition Agreement: “In the coming years, it will have, as the main goal, to strengthen good name of the Czech Republic in the world?”
 
4. Snjezana Pelivan, referring to the Croatian Constitution, officially requested the government in Zagreb to support her claim against the Czech Republic submitted to Strasbourg. Czech and foreign media also quoted her words: “Americans spit on this country openly and smile nicely. And Prague wipes itself dry and keeps smiling, too. Our next complaint, mine and Anna’s, will be to Geneva, to the UN Human Rights Council.”
 
How the Czech government , Mr. Prime Minister, assesses such a consequence of its inactivity, how much longer it intends to stay silent, not addressing American institutions with relevant questions regarding RFE/RL’s labor policies and actions at the territory of sovereign Czech Republic?
 
Sincerely,
Vladimira Lesenska

A prominent Czech filmmaker Martin Mahdal, honored for his works with the “European Oscar” and French Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur, has requested on-camera interviews with acting president Kevin Klose and BBG members to be included in a TV documentary on RFE/RL’s badly tarnished image in the Czech Republic and elsewhere. Mahdal said that he plans to show his documentary film at human rights film festivals in Prague, Washington, New York, and Zagreb. He has not yet received an answer.

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