By Elias Hazou
TO THE satisfaction of civil servants, lawmakers yesterday postponed voting on a legislative proposal for a one-off scale cut on the 13th salaries of public-sector and private employees to fund a Christmas bonus for the needy, and adjusted back working hours in the broader public sector.
Some 50 legislative items were on the agenda during the all-day session of the plenum.
The majority of the House voted to delay a proposal tabled by socialists EDEK for tapping into 13th salaries to fund a one-off payout for needy people over the holidays.
DIKO MP Nicholas Papadopoulos argued that EDEK’s bill did not clearly explain how the 13th salaries of private sector would be cut, and moreover even if the bill were passed logistically there was simply not enough time to “collect a single cent” by the end of the year.
Other legislators proposed that the matter be revisited later by lumping the 13th salary cuts with a separate legislative proposal calling for the establishment of a ‘solidarity fund’. The intention is for that fund to be financed through budget spending cuts.
They said also that had EDEK’s item been defeated it would not have been possible to re-table it later – but EDEK were unconvinced, saying the delay was aimed at killing the bill.
Parliamentarians also decided to adjust back by half an hour the regular starting and ending working times in the public sector, to 7.30am and 8.30am and in the afternoons to 3pm and 4pm with no extended afternoon shift. The new timetable will take effect as of January 1.
The changes – part of the bailout agreement with Cyprus’ international lenders – were introduced in stages, with the first alterations implemented earlier this year. Public servants were given a choice of going to work at 7.30am or 8.30am and finishing at 3pm or 4pm accordingly.
But in early September, starting time shifted half an hour forward, so that public servants went to work from 8am to 3.30pm or from 9am to 4.30pm. Due to fierce opposition from civil servants, who argued that the new timetable was impractical and disruptive, the government succeeded in getting the troika to agree to revert back to the first stage.
The re-adjustment passed with just 11 votes in favour, with 30 MPs abstaining.
Parliament also gave the nod to a €30m cash boost to ailing national carrier Cyprus Airways as compensation for the additional operating costs incurred by the airline as a result of the ban on flying in Turkish airspace.
The move is more of an accounting exercise – not new money – with the €30m coming from a supplementary budget for 2013 by jigging funds from other areas.
European Party MP Demetris Syllouris proposed that the additional costs incurred by Cyprus Airways should be borne by Turkey, and said the government ought to raise the issue with the European Union.
According to one estimate, to date Cyprus Airways has spent €500m extra on fuel and crew pay because of the Turkish ban.
And under government legislation passed unanimously, the children of refugee mothers are given refugee status along with all the accompanying benefits.
The intention behind the change is to end what has been perceived as discrimination between the sexes.
Refugee women had for years demanded to be afforded refugee status that was until now held only by men who were forced to leave their homes in the north of Cyprus following the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Refugees are afforded housing, land, and grants to buy homes, as well as low interest loans.
In May 2011, the previous administration allocated around €10.6 million in allowances and benefits for children of refugee mothers but stopped short of officially recognising them.
In February of that year, the Supreme Court had ruled that a law passed by parliament to grant the children of refugee mothers the same status as the children of refugee fathers was unconstitutional. The government of the time said it could not afford what it would cost to push through the law on equal status.
The new law stipulates that, in order to be eligible for housing assistance, a person must reside permanently in the Republic.
Children of refugees will also be eligible for a rent allowance, according to means-testing.
Another item of legislation passed yesterday establishes new criteria in the selection and appointment of board members of semi-governmental organisations (SGOs).
The changes set a maximum of two terms (or 60 months) for SGO board members, and a person who is 65 years old or over will no longer be eligible as a candidate.
Greens MP Perdikis tried to insert an amendment that would make it a criminal offence for political parties to submit a list of candidates for SGO directors. But his proposal was deemed too radical by the vast majority of his parliamentary colleagues, who argued that it discriminated against politicians, and Perdikis’ amendment was soundly defeated.