FINANCE Minister Harris Georgiades has a difficult week ahead as he attempts to finalise the budget for 2014 that will include the spending cuts of €700 million, stipulated in the MoU. Not an easy task, especially as the earnings of many public employees would be affected by the proposed cuts in overtime rates and in allowances for shift work over and above the wage cuts that come into force from January.
The minister has been involved in talks with union bosses, while state nurses have already threatened strike action if the shift work allowances were cut and overtime rates reduced. It is only a matter of time before other public employees who work shifts like policemen, firemen, prison wardens, air-traffic controllers etc also threaten action. Georgiades seems determined to push through the changes, even though his proposals still need to be approved by the council of ministers, headed by a president that wants to be on good terms with union bosses.
Georgiades, thankfully, does not share the president’s sensitivities as his blunt comment to a radio show presenter on Thursday morning showed. Speaking about the CyTA scandal, he said, “the corruption is not unrelated to the economic crisis faced by the state,” and explained that the allowances and other benefits being paid to public employees, as part of the collective agreements, was tantamount to a “lawful plundering of the state”. His bluntness was commendable and he was right to take a swipe at the sacred cow of ‘workers’ rights’ which in Cyprus are, in effect, workers’ abuses of the system.
What were incremental pay-scales and CoLA that guaranteed annual pay increases of 5 to 6 per cent to all public employees, if not lawful plundering of the state. What was the long list of absurd allowances and free healthcare, or the big pensions, to which public employees made no contribution, if not lawful plundering of the state? None of these privileges could be justified morally or economically, but as part of the collective agreements they could not be touched.
AKEL chief Andros Kyprianou took great exception to the minister’s sacrilegious views asking he could refer to workers’ rights and conquests as plunder. These rights were won through the struggles of the workers and had to be respected, Kyprianou claimed, repeating his party’s simplistic rhetoric. But what struggles was he actually referring to? What public employees demanded, public employees were given. PASYDY, the union representing state employees, kept demanding more money, more benefits and more ‘rights’ and was always satisfied by our weak and irresponsible politicians (the same if not worse happened at SGOs).
It is these public workers’ conquests that eventually bankrupted the state and Georgiades was correct to link the corruption we are all complaining about today to the big financial problems faced by the state. The plundering of the state or SGOs by workers, with the tacit approval of the political establishment is just another form of corruption.