Cyprus Mail

Minister steps in in hope of averting strike

The communications minister has said he has taken steps to pay bus companies sums owed for October, just as bus drivers, who say they are caught between state and companies, have threatened to strike on Monday.
The six companies running Cyprus’ public bus network – one for each district and one for intercity routes – have not paid their drivers their November salary in full. The drivers have said they will go on strike on Monday, blaming the companies for failing to resolve their issues with the state and using them as pawns.
Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos told state broadcaster CyBC on Saturday he has asked the finance ministry to free up funds to pay the bus companies for October and said they are taking steps to put in payments for November as soon as possible.
The companies charge the government to use their buses as part of the public network and to run routes, receiving a rate per kilometre to represent fuel costs.
But the public bus network, despite being extensively overhauled in 2010, is loss-making. Only some routes in tourist areas are actually turning in a profit, Mitsopoulos said. Previous communications ministers have said the companies were being paid too much for running the network’s routes. Meanwhile companies tend to withhold wages if they are expecting money from the state. The drivers then strike, and the companies blame the state for not paying up.
Mitsopoulos yesterday said that given the state’s finances, it will not always be possible to pay companies immediately and he could not make any promises as to when the funds would be released. He said he wanted to have a meeting next week with stakeholders, not just to discuss the “obvious” issue of money, “but also the bigger issues that still remain”.
He said he was willing to have a dialogue with those involved to find more permanent solutions. One issue that needs to be looked at is the way companies’ revenues are calculated, he said.
But Mitsopoulos said people needed to come into a discussion willing to cooperate. Announcing a strike without so much as a written explanation to the minister as to why, contravened the essence of cooperation, he said.


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