One in five Czech firms look to cut jobs amid high energy prices - survey

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Almost one in five Czech companies will look at cutting staff this year as they struggle with rising costs and high energy prices, the country's Chamber of Commerce said on Wednesday.

In a survey of 493 companies, the group found 18% expected employee numbers to drop in the second half of the year, while 72% said they expected staffing to stay unchanged.

"By the end of the year, almost a fifth of companies will cut their employee levels... driven by rising prices and especially high energy prices," the chamber said in a release.

Firms have been demanding help as high energy prices cut into their business, with some producers already reporting operations are becoming loss-making.

Czech unemployment is the lowest in the European Union, and some surveys until recently have shown hiring still strong. In June, jobs agency Manpower's country survey saw more companies hiring than firing in the third quarter.

But companies are struggling more and seeking ways to save as energy costs surge, with a spike in gas prices amid concerns over Russian supplies driving up electricity prices to record highs.

Governments are racing to help households and firms.

The Czech government last week approved a discount electricity rate for households, and on Wednesday the industry minister said he aimed for a programme to help energy-intensive firms that could cost 25 billion-28 billion crowns ($1.02 billion-1.15 billion).

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said last week the government had set aside 177 billion crowns, or nearly 3% of gross domestic product, to ease the burden of soaring energy bills and inflation.

($1 = 24.4400 Czech crowns)

(Reporting by Jason Hovet)