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Cyprus

‘Workers being exploited under new shop hours’

By Poly Pantelides

TRADE union PEO renewed calls yesterday to have a decree on extended shop opening hours revoked – or at least not renewed – arguing that the shops were taking advantage of employees forcing them to work longer hours for the same pay.

PEO’s general secretary Pambis Kyritsis said that workers had been complaining anonymously because they feared for their jobs. He added that kiosk owners and small shopkeepers had been warning they were being driven out of business because consumers were starting to favour bigger shops that could afford to stay open longer.

“This is not an impression formed from official data and facts but we are the recipients of workers’ reactions and of people working in retail in general,” he said.

“The situation must soon be clarified on what will happen. A decree can’t be issued in this way by the [labour] minister,” Kyritsis added.

The labour ministry issued a decree in early July allowing shops outside tourist areas to remain open until later on weekdays and also on Sunday. Shops must cover at least half of the extra covering hours by hiring unemployed people registered with the labour ministry’s flexible unemployment scheme, whose wage will be 65 per cent covered by the ministry for eight months.

The decree is due to expire in less than a month, on October 13. Big retailers have formed a new association to lobby for the opening hours to remain as is. The association represents big interests of the like of Jumbo, McDonald’s, Carrefour, My Mall and Alpha Mega supermarkets.

They argue that consumers and the unemployed are benefiting from the scheme. Small shopkeepers union POVEK is trying to get the decree revoked in the Supreme Court. The union has been vocal against the decree, which it says only benefits the bigger shops.

Marios Tsiakkis, the general secretary of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has been a long-time advocate of longer opening hours, said they needed to wait and see what the Supreme Court said.

But he added that so far, an estimated 800 people had been hired through the scheme, which they understood to have “positive results”. The labour ministry placed the estimates at a more conservative 466 people during a news conference two weeks ago.

The ministry has so far been noncommittal on whether the decree would be renewed with minister Zeta Emilianidou saying they would consider all available data before making any decisions.

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