Cyprus Mail

Unions threaten wave of strikes

Doctors plan to hold a national convention on November 18, where they will decide what steps to take

By Elias Hazou

TRADE unions of the telecoms utility CyTA delivered an ultimatum yesterday, threatening a wave of imminent strike action unless the finance minister meets with them by end’s week to discuss government plans on privatising state-owned enterprises (SGOs).

Following a joint session of the five main CyTA unions, they addressed a letter to finance minister Harris Georgiades asking to meet him in order to discuss a mooted change in the ownership status of the telecoms utility.

CyTA unionists are fiercely opposed to the privatisation of the state-owned entity, which however is provided for in the memorandum of understanding between the government and the troika of international lenders.

Under the updated MoU (November), leaked to the media yesterday, by the end of this year the cabinet must “examine a list of SOEs to be restructured or liquidated.”

Moreover, the privatisation plan – which specifically cites CyTA, the electricity utility and the Ports Authority – must be adopted “prior to the granting of the third disbursement of financial assistance.” And the state must put in place the legal and institutional framework for the privatisation process by January 2014.

The privatisation drive is intended to raise €1bn by the end of the economic adjustment programme (2016), €1.4bn overall by 2018.

The CyTA unions warn that if they are excluded from the government’s plans they will initiate a series of one-hour work stoppages, possibly escalating their industrial action later.

Similar threats of “dynamic measures” have been issued by the majority of unions of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, the cash-strapped government will have its work cut out in the following weeks and months trying to sell its privatisations scheme as reaction from unions – some affiliated to political parties – is sure to mount.

On another front, state doctors have likewise dangled the threat of strike action over the question of overtime pay, a system which the government intends to overhaul.

In a statement yesterday, doctors’ union PASYKI said it was being “inevitably led” to taking strong action after the ministry of health apparently made commitments to the troika without consulting them first.

The doctors plan hold a national convention on November 18, where they will decide what steps to take.

Maro Kontou, head of PASYKI, said they never consented that doctors should work for free between 3pm and 5pm, as the minister of health seemed to suggest in recent remarks.

What the doctors had agreed to, she said, was to work between 3pm and 4.30pm without overtime pay, as a “goodwill gesture” and on condition that this arrangement would hold for six months only.

According to Kontou, to their surprise the union then heard that these unpaid overtime hours were to be extended and that pay for overtime work beyond 5pm would be slashed by a fixed rate – perhaps by up to 50 per cent.

The doctors questioned the logic of slashing overtime pay, arguing that it would not save a great deal of cash since doctors’ overtime accounts for a mere 1 per cent of the health ministry’s budget.

Instead, they said, what such a move would achieve was to diminish the level of health services which would negatively impact patients.

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