Supreme Court: same wage for same work in Prague and elsewhere

The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that a driver working in the regional town of Olomouc is entitled to the same wage as a driver working for the same employer and at the same position in Prague. According to the SC, external social and economic circumstances such as the job market situation or cost of living in the region do not constitute a criterion for assessing whether the same work or, more precisely, work of the same value, is involved. Does this mean that employers will have to top up their employees’ wages to level them across regions?

Under the Labour Code, all employees of the same employer shall be entitled to the same wage for the same work or work of the same value. Same work or work of the same value shall mean work of the same or comparable complexity, responsibility and difficulty that is performed under the same or similar working conditions, with the same or similar performance and results. This means that the amount of individual employees’ wages does not always have to be the same, but the differences, if any, must be justified solely by the grounds listed above. Fair compensation, equal treatment and no discrimination are the fundamental principles of labour law.

In the case in question, an employee of Česká pošta (the Czech postal service) in Olomouc working as a driver in a specific position with an assigned remuneration grade received a lower wage than his colleagues working in the same position in Prague, and sought compensation for the difference in court. Česká pošta argued that the working conditions in Prague were different from those in Olomouc, mainly in terms of the complexity, responsibility and difficulty of work. However, the courts concluded that the difficulty of the work and of the working conditions did not significantly differ in the two locations.

Česká pošta then filed an extraordinary appeal with the Supreme Court, arguing mainly that it was necessary to consider the real wage, i.e. an employee’s actual wage after deducting the necessary cost of living, including costs for accommodation, transport, services, etc., which are significantly higher in Prague and its surroundings than in other regions of the Czech Republic. The Supreme Court admitted that social and economic conditions do indeed affect the job market on both its supply and demand side, and that employers in more costly locations may compete for employees by offering them better working conditions, including wages. However, in the court’s opinion, this does not justify the conclusion that this may be done to employees working for the same employer. The court insisted that working conditions may only be compared using the criteria listed in the Labour Code , which are limited solely to the employer’s internal conditions; the Labour Code does not allow considering also external social or economic conditions. The Supreme Court did not review the facts of the case, i.e. whether the working conditions in individual regions did indeed differ. Nonetheless, the case is interesting mainly because of the extensive evidentiary proceedings during which most assertions made by Česká pošta in support of the different wages of drivers working in the same position in Prague and Olomouc were disproved. 

Although the Supreme Court ruled in a specific dispute, its conclusions can be applied generally. It is therefore likely that employees and trade union organisations will respond to the judgement. Importantly, the court did not dispute that even in the same position, different work or work of a different value may be performed, therefore deserving a different wage. However, if employers with workplaces in several regions remunerate their employees in the same positions differently, they must be ready to present and prove specific reasons/grounds for their approach; and these may only be based on the criteria admitted by the Labour Code, not on the social or economic circumstances in the given region.

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