By Stefanos Evripidou
PUBLIC SECTOR unions voiced their strong opposition to the new working hours implemented on Monday, with one union boss arguing the banks should be made to pay for the crisis, not public sector workers.
“The imposition of unilateral decisions helps no one, least of all the country,” said Glafcos Hadjipetrou, boss of powerful public servants union PASYDY.
He argued that no one has confronted the banks who “committed the crime” of destroying the country, instead focusing on public sector workers who have already made many sacrifices.
“We’ve taken quite a few measures against workers, and excessive measures that did not help at all. Let anyone tell me one measure taken to correct the wrongdoings of the banks,” asked Hadjipetrou.
New working hours for the public service came into effect on Monday as part of measures agreed in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed between Cyprus and its international lenders, the troika.
The changes were introduced in stages, with the first alterations implemented on January 1 this year. Public servants were given a choice of going to work at 7.30am or 8.30am and finishing at 3pm or 4pm accordingly.
From Monday, starting time shifted half an hour forward, giving public servants the choice of going to work from 8am to 3.30pm or from 9am to 4.30pm.
The aim of the changes is to reduce overtime pay and provide a better service to the public.
Last week, the finance ministry issued instructions to include shift workers (paid per hour), employed by the public sector, in the new timetable.
PASYDY is outright against working hours reform for public workers, while unions PEO, SEK and DEOK blasted the “unilateral” decision to include shift workers in the new timetable.
Hadjipetrou accused the government of taking unnecessary measures without prior consultation with the unions.
He argued that the interim timetable implemented on January 1 was more functional and fulfilled all the goals set by the troika, making the new timetable unnecessary.
This was confirmed in a report prepared by a joint committee set up by PASYDY and chaired by the finance ministry’s permanent secretary, he said.
“It was surprising for us that the minister rejected it because we looked at it with his own people, particularly the finance ministry’s permanent secretary,” he said.
Hadjipetrou called on the government to review the new timetable with the union.
The union boss questioned how public servants would work around the new timetable: “A worker who takes his child to school at 7.30am, what is he supposed to do until 9am, take walks down the long road (Ledra Street). We have to look at this logically.”
Speaking to Cyprus News Agency, he said he was confident a solution could be found: “The public service is there to serve the Cypriot public. I believe there is room with good will to find a solution.”
Meanwhile, PEO unionist Michalis Archontides called on shift workers not to implement the new timetable, but to stick to January’s interim timetable.
He argued that no savings would be made by the changes, nor would service to the public improve.
SEK and PEO released a joint statement saying they could not accept the unilaterally imposed timetable because it went “beyond any logic”, was unlawful, and violates the rules of employment for shift workers as well as health and safety rules.
The unions argued that most shift workers are employed in the construction sector and in rural areas and that any changes to working hours would negatively impact upon their productivity and health and safety standards given the hot weather prevailing on the island.
DEOK released a statement describing the decision on shift workers as “arbitrary and irregular”.