Cyprus Mail

Union fury over labour cost cuts at municipality

By Stefanos Evripidou

UNIONS ARE furious over the decision of Engomi Mayor Zacharias Kyriacou to cut the working days of municipal employees at the “overstaffed” local authority.

Kyriacou said yesterday that as a result of cash flow problems, the municipality would reduce the working hours of all staff, including those of municipal councillors and his own, for a six-month period.

The unions responded, saying this was unfair and called on the labour ministry’s mediation service to intervene. They do not rule out strike measures further down the road.

Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC yesterday, Kyriacou explained that from July 1, 2013, until December 31 of the same year, the Engomi municipality in the capital would implement a new policy to reduce the working hours of staff and tackle its dwindling funds and liquidity issues.

Kyriacou argued that the aim was to save jobs, and not have to lay off people, acknowledging that the local authority was already overstaffed.

The measure will see administrative staff work one day less each month, while municipal labourers will be forced to take two days off per month.

“It is a measure in combination with a series of other measures that we consider must be implemented in our municipality, so we don’t reach the tragic situation of losing jobs. And we have discussed this issue with the unions repeatedly,” he said.

“And in our effort to save jobs, not throw people out with redundancies, we want all staff to help in the coming months, so the municipality can properly manage its budget for 2013.”

He noted that each worker was making a “contribution” to secure their job, adding that the figure saved was on average of gross earnings around €100 a month per staff member.

“Engomi municipality is overstaffed when compared with other municipalities. For example, local authorities of a similar size and capacity to Engomi might have 80 employees. When I took over here, Engomi municipality had 139 employees. You can appreciate how big the difference is,” said Kyriacou

The mayor said the large number of staff was hired under different circumstances. “They got jobs, built their lives around them, we don’t want to lay people off.”

SEK unionist Andreas Elia yesterday criticised Kyriacou’s “unprecedented” action.

“What’s unprecedented is the correlation between the payment of wages and the municipality’s revenue.”

He argued that the Cypriot wider public sector operates on a principle of uniformity, where employees are afforded equal treatment throughout the wider sector.

“This practice and uniformity must be protected with great care. We have examples in other countries where there were great inconsistencies in the terms of employment, even from one ministry to the other, and I’m referring to Greece, which created huge problems in implementing certain measures and achieving the effectiveness needed,” said Elia.

“Fortunately, we have basic terms of employment which are uniform. This decision of the Engomi municipality promotes and puts on the table a new order of things. We are not dogmatically against taking certain decisions, but this is not the time to be putting this on the table,” he added.

The SEK unionist argued that since this was a “small” problem of six-month liquidity shortages, the local authority should work in coordination with the state and other municipalities to find a general solution.

“The union movement has been shouting for months about the need to restructure local authorities through intertwining, increasing productivity and effectiveness and if after, we find there is overstaffing we will be able to deal with that and find ways to reduce personnel,” he said.

Elia added that it was wrong for each of the 30 municipalities in the free areas and nine occupied municipalities to tackle their problems in different ways and change the uniform and basic terms of employment.

PEO union’s Antonis Neophytou argued that the wider public sector has already been made to pay for the economic crisis through repeated cuts in 2011 and 2012.

Municipalities could not unilaterally cut wages and benefits beyond what public sector workers have already contributed to the crisis, he said.

“It is a fact that local authorities face economic problems that are different in each municipality and this is mainly because of the different size of state grants given to each,” he said.

Neophytou accused Kyriacou of being on the personnel board when staff was being hired at the Engomi municipality, “so he cannot use the excuse that when he took over the place was overstaffed”.

Unions representing municipal workers met yesterday afternoon where they decided to seek the mediation of the labour ministry.

They also plan to meet with the mayor and interior minister to discuss the issue. In the meantime, they asked the mayor to postpone his plans.

Elia told the Cyprus Mail yesterday the unions will follow normal procedures. “We have a month,” he said, refusing to rule out strike action should all other options fail.

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