ENGOMI MAYOR Zacharias Kyriacou’s proposal for reducing the municipality’s spending by a small reduction in staff working hours has come under attack from the unions.
As first step, unions have decided to ask the labour ministry to mediate in the dispute but have not ruled out the possibility of strike action if it were not resolved.
Despite everything that has happened in recent months, union bosses continue to live in the past, adhering to the obsolete and discredited practices of the pre-bailout days.
It is as if they are in denial about the economy’s collapse and soaring unemployment, which have drastically reduced the unions’ power and relevance. Of course, in the public sector which is run by weak, populist politicians they can still engage in some old-fashioned muscle-flexing.
This may explain the outcry against the Mayor’s very sensible and painless proposal.
He wants to save €100 every month from the gross salary of all municipal workers.
To achieve this he has proposed that administrative staff work one day less each month and labourers two days less.
It would save the municipality, which employs 139 people some €14,000 per month and €84,000 over the six months the measure would be in force.
Had he proposed municipality employees worked a three-day week, the reaction may have been understandable, but one or two days less a month should not even have been an issue.
As Kyriacou said, the measure would ensure there were no redundancies, despite the fact that the municipality was ‘overstaffed’. Would it have been better to make 40 people redundant in order to keep wages at current levels?
The fact is that the two unions, PEO and SEK, against Kyriakou’s proposal, consent to reductions in working hours in the private sector, because saving jobs, quite rightly, is the priority.
Why do they not adopt the same position for the public sector, the workers of which have been the least affected by the recession?
It could be because this would signal the end of the collective agreements that are negotiated by the unions and apply across industries.
If they could not negotiate collective agreement unions would have much less power.
This was why representatives of both unions argued that the same terms of employment should apply to the employees of all municipalities. Needless to say, there is not a single sound economic argument to support the preservation of collective agreements.
Union bosses may have accepted the demise of collective agreements in the private sector, but cannot agree to it happening in the public sector as well, because their power and influence would be severely diminished.
No bad thing for the rest of us.