By Poly Pantelides
A DAY after the Cabinet announced a dialogue with stakeholders on labour conditions in the private sector unions came out – one with strike action authorised – to say that whatever this dialogue may be, it better leave collective rights out of it.
The head of primary school teachers’ union POED Philios Phylactou said the union has been given a carte blanche to go on strike “if and when necessary and whenever we judge it appropriate”. He said the government’s attitude indicated they ignored the union’s positions, a dig at the government’s refusal to take up on their permanent payroll some 300 contract state school teachers.
SEK’s Nicos Moyseos said the union would be part of a dialogue on what they thought was “correct” to discuss, which he said left out collective agreements.
Trade union PEO said on Wednesday they were concerned over interference in collective agreements, and the risk the government would lose their neutrality as mediators between workers and employers.
The government should be discussing how to protect employees, and “not what else should be taken away from employees,” PEO said. PEO issued the statement on the basis of press reports on the Cabinet’s decision.
Labour minister Zeta Emilianidou was given the green light from the Cabinet on Wednesday to start a discussion with private sector stakeholders in order to come up with a two-year emergency plan to weather out the island’s economic recession.
The dialogue, still expressed in vague terms, entails looking at overtime, holiday and shift allowances, wage increases and cost-of-living allowances, end-of-year and Easter bonuses, restructuring working hours, part-time employment, and newcomers’ wages.
Also up for discussion are local authorities and semi-governmental organisations’ allowances, employers’ contributions to various funds, measures supporting employment and/or avoiding redundancies, employing Cypriots, and illegal and undeclared employment.
Emilianidou said yesterday they were not looking to abolish rights but to look closer into the labour sector, especially where collective agreements were not normally kept.
When the previous government of left-wing party AKEL started reluctantly pushing some measures to contain their growing deficit and debt, unions resisted any moves that would take away any benefits from civil servants.
Over the last few years, unions have had keen jerk reactions against changing the status quo in the state sector, fearing that any compromise would entail a slippery slope of outright loss of all rights.