By Peter Stevenson
UNIONS have accused building contractors of not paying employees on time, of cutting wages, and in some cases having not paid workers for months.
Employees do not speak up because the fear being fired, the unions said.
According to trade unions PEO and SEK, around 90 per cent of builders have not been paid on time and in many cases have not had their social insurance paid for months and possibly years in certain cases.
Yiannakis Ioannou from SEK said that some builders who are paid on a weekly basis have been left unpaid from anywhere between one and five weeks and that some construction companies only last week managed to pay their employees for working during the Christmas period.
“Instead of giving their employees salaries some companies are giving them letters of notice letting them go,” he said.
Asked why employees have not gone on strike or protested, Ioannou said workers do not want to enter into a conflict with their employers.
“But those who have been let go instead of being paid will not sit idly by and you will see a reaction,” he said.
Ioannou added the fact social insurance had not been paid for many meant they would have trouble with pension payments down the line.
“There is a dictatorship in the construction sector today, people are afraid to speak and they have had all their rights, which they have been fighting for years to obtain, taken away,” he said.
Michalis Papanicolaou from PEO said that construction companies were taking advantage of the current financial situation and withholding salaries and wages.
“It is our responsibility to try and remove that sense of fear and spread the message that there needs to be understanding between construction companies and builders,” he said.
Papanicolaou added that if action was not taken then there was a real fear of the building sector collapsing.
The Cyprus Federation of Associations of Buildings Contractors (OSEOK) head Costas Roushias said he feels the current situation has been exaggerated.
“All employers are worried about is how they will pay their employees so they have money to put food on the family table at the end of the week so people claiming that companies are withholding salaries is far-fetched,” he said.
He said that if there are circumstances where people are not being paid or payment is being delayed then it needs to be investigated.
Roushias said he believes the majority of cases involve sites that have had to stop working because investment has run out and contractors were forced to take loans to pay off their employees.
He added that he hoped trade unions and OSEOK could work together to find a solution to the problem as it was in everyone’s interest to come to an amicable solution.