By Peter Stevenson
STRIKE measures could intensify if the government’s position on the privatisation of semi-state organisations (SGOs) does not change.
This was the message delivered by unionists and employees from the Cyprus Port Authority (CPA) and telecoms company CyTA, who carried out separate strikes yesterday.
Strikers gathered outside Limassol port’s entrance to protest against government plans which would see the privatisation of SGOs as part of the island’s bailout programme.
“Today’s protest is just the beginning of… reactions against privatisations and our measures will escalate if we are not called to discuss the matter and if we are not given the required assurances that privatisation will be prevented,” secretary-general of the Pancyprian association of independent trade unions, Gregoris Katsellis said.
SGOs should remain as public benefit organisations, he added, as they are currently and only need to be modernised so that they can become more productive and efficient he said.
Secretary-general of trade union PEO’s SIDIKEK branch which represents SGO employees said that CPA workers were protesting because privatisation would mean port profits would end up in the private sector’s hands.
“The finance minister promised in the last meeting with the unions that he would discuss with the organisations and political leaders a way to avoid privatisations but instead of doing that he is going ahead with a privatisation plan,” Antonis Neophytou said.
Neophytou added that unions and employees would not accept public wealth and profits being given to private companies.
The two-hour strike went ahead with no reported problems.
CyTA’s one hour strike yesterday lasted from 1.15 pm until 2.15 pm. In a statement, CyTA unions slammed privatisation plans that had not been discussed with employees.
“Arbitrary estimates are being made about the value of the organisation, under the assumption that if it was sold off, we could recoup our debt towards our lenders and free us from the Memorandum of Understanding regarding privatisations,” the unions said.
“For any roadmap towards privatisation to go ahead there would need to be someone who is fully aware of the telecommunications sector and the particular features of CyTA, but unfortunately, as we have observed in all the discussions in the media, there is the lack of scientific training and expertise on all issues relating to the field of electronic communications,” the statement said.
First deputy head of trade union SEK’s SGO branch Elias Demetriou said it was a shame that the finance minister had forced the workers to go on a one-hour strike.
“There has not been any dialogue nor have the employees been informed about what will happen,” he said.
CyTA said that none of their services were affected by the strike.
During a meeting on Friday the Cyprus electricity authority (EAC) unions decided that they would also go ahead with a two hour warning strike today.
Government spokesman Christos Stylianides said the state was acting with the public’s interests at heart and would continue discussions with stakeholders which will lead to an acceptable solution.
“This a major topic of public interest and Cyprus has suffered greatly over the last five years through populism and unrealistic approaches. The debate on privatisation should be maintained within the framework imposed by our international lenders for obvious reasons but at the same time we need to respect workers rights,” he said.
Finance Minister Harris Georgiades said a week ago that the government would proceed with privatisations unless the unions could find another way of saving €1.4 billion as stipulated under the MoU.
On December 11, when Georgiades returns from abroad, arrangements will be made to meet with trade unions to discuss the matter, a ministry press release said.
Georgiades is currently paying official visits to the US and Russia.
The minister is in Washington where he will hold a series of meetings with high ranking US officials and the International Monetary Fund.
On December 8, the minister will leave for Brussels to participate in the Eurogroup meeting a day later. On December 10, Georgiades will be in Moscow.