Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

The truth behind union opposition to privatisation

By Loucas Charalambous

IF THERE was even the slightest doubt about the destructive role played by the trade unions for the calamitous path followed by our economy in the last 36 years (it started with the Spyros Kyprianou presidency) it was dispelled by the arrogant behaviour of the bank employees’ union ETYK, with regard to the wage cuts at the co-ops.

I would like to repeat my view that in the public sector a peculiar type of fascism has prevailed – the fascism of the unions. This fascism was bred by the tolerance and populism of our politicians. ETYK’s provocative behaviour in the last week was probably the worst case of this fascism in recent years, if we take into account the context in which it took place.

This was arrogance that nobody could forgive. Some 2,700 of the co-ops’ 3,000 employees readily agreed to pay cuts of about 15 per cent as part of the restructuring programme for the co-op movement which had been bankrupted by the self-serving incompetents that were running it until recently.

It was the minimum sacrifice the workers could have made if we take into account the tragic consequences of our bankruptcy to which the co-ops contributed proportionally far more than the banks. Yet the leadership of ETYK, representing 300 workers, tried to impose its will, cynically rejecting the proposal of the new management.

The decisive intervention of Finance Minister Harris Georgiades was needed for rationality to be imposed. Georgiades deserves full praise for issuing a ministerial decree imposing the pay cuts. Unfortunately he has not dared to act so forcefully in other blatant cases of union excess such as at CyTA. On the contrary in this case, the minister has displayed an inexplicable tolerance which has fuelled the audaciousness of the union bosses.

I wrote about this recently when I dwelt on the ‘unexpected’ support by the unions to the redundancy scheme for some 700 CyTA employees who will be given provocatively high compensation payments.

Despite ranting and raving against the privatisation of the authority on the grounds it is a selling off of ‘public wealth’, union bosses have essentially conceded that CyTA was more a case of ‘public danger’ as they agreed that it employed a thousand workers (some 300 have already been made redundant) that were surplus to requirements. They were obviously hired as favours to the political parties.

After a meeting with Georgiades on January 25, CyTA’s verbose union bosses said they had asked the minister to include in the privatisation law provisions “guaranteeing the pension and constitutional rights of the workers”. One of them said that “the important thing is that we have found an ally (the minister) for the securing of the pension rights of the workers, regardless of the solution that is given in the end.”

When the union bosses of CyTA talk about “constitutional rights”, they mean the continuation of the scandalous regime of the free retirement bonus, the almost free super-pensions, the big salaries and assorted privileges at the expense of the taxpayer and the consumers.

This is an admission that all their public moaning against the sell-off of “public wealth” was just a pretext. Their real concern was the perpetuation of their super-privileges and as long as these were safeguarded, they had no objection to privatisation.

It is worth nothing that on the day of the meeting with the minister, it was also reported that criminal investigators had been appointed to look into three new financial scandals at CyTA. About this, the union bosses had nothing to say.

Georgiades is committing a big mistake, making promises to the unions under the illusion that he will win their acquiescence. In the not too distant future the promises he made will come back to haunt him. The case of the co-ops showed that pandering to the union bosses did not serve any good purpose. On the contrary, it makes their stance more arrogant and provocative.

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