Cyprus Mail

Our View: Howitzer Harris stands up to ETYK bullies

CONGRATULATIONS to finance minister Harris Georgiades for taking the unprecedented, bold step of issuing a decree imposing pay-cuts on all 3,000 employees of the co-ops. It was about time someone put the arrogant ETYK boss Loizos Hadjicostis, who has been calling the shots in the banking sector, dictating promotions, working hours, pay scales and benefits for three decades, in his place.

At long last, a politician realised that the idea of dialogue and consensus with a union bully like Hadjicostis, accustomed to always getting his way, was a no-win situation. For decades, the ETYK chief has been using the strike threat that terrified bank bosses in order to achieve his objectives. Cyprus’ bank employees were among the best-paid in the world, guaranteed substantial pay rises every year and retirement bonuses to which they contributed nothing.

Hadjicostis did very well for his members and for himself (his retirement bonus was reportedly in the region of a million euro) because he continued to be employed by the National Bank of Greece and got promotions, while fighting the banks. Of course, the banks’ managements and boards are exclusively to blame for allowing him to wield so much power, because they never stood up to him. ETYK officials, for instance, should never have been allowed to remain fully-paid bank employees – the union should have been paying them to wreak havoc at banks.

In the case of the co-ops, Hadjicostis was caught out by the ministerial decree. Until Wednesday lunch-time he refused to agree to the pay cuts that the other unions accepted for the 2,700 co-op workers they represented. He was insisting that the 300 co-op workers that belonged to ETYK should receive preferential treatment. His intransigence was based on the calculation that the co-op top brass would give in because they would not want the dispute unresolved when they met the troika yesterday.

This was the reason the finance minister issued the decree imposing the pay cuts on Wednesday afternoon. He did not want the issue unresolved when the members of the troika were due to discuss the restructuring of the co-ops yesterday. To be fair, the co-op management had also taken a tough line before the decree, informing ETYK members that if they did not sign individual contracts that incorporated the pay-cuts their union opposed, they would be made redundant. The union said this was blackmail and threatened ‘dynamic measures’, a euphemism for strikes, which was not blackmail.

Perhaps other bank boards will finally feel empowered to stand up to ETYK. There is currently a deadlock over the renewal of the sector’s collective agreement, the union having set a series of unreasonable conditions for signing. Perhaps Georgiades could break the deadlock by issuing another decree. There is no other way of dealing with the bullies of ETYK.

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