By Angelos Anastasiou
Cypriot employees at the UK’s Sovereign Base Areas (SBA) went on a 24-hour strike on Tuesday in protest of pay cuts and austerity measures taken unilaterally by the SBA administration, “under the pretext of the financial crisis”, and called for the Cyprus government to step in.
Striking protesters blocked entry to the Akrotiri base for two and a half hours on Tuesday morning, with tension escalating when base authorities threatened to forcibly end the blockade. Skirmishes were averted when protesters were persuaded to allow access to the base.
Union rep for Cypriot SBA employees Christos Tziapouras said that the British administration continued to exploit the island’s financial woes, unilaterally violating collective agreements and slashing salaries and imposing benefit cuts for Cypriot employees while they – British employees – received pay hikes last August.
“Over the last four years the British have terminated 350 Cypriot employees and replaced them with English dependents,” he said.
“They are trying to exploit the financial crisis we are faced with and benefit from the cuts imposed on collective agreements.”
Tziapouras called for the Cyprus government to “stop being inert” and step in to settle the dispute, and described the Base administration as a “mockery”, claiming that when the issue was brought to the Labour ministry the administration sent a letter confirming that all employees’ jobs were safe, only to reject the ministry’s mediating proposal shortly thereafter.
“The unions will wait until the new SBA commander assumes his duties in early March, so that his attitude towards our demands can be established,” he said.
“Regional assemblies will follow in order to decide on future action.”
Sources confirmed that the administration is aware of the issue but maintained that its compensation policy “remains compliant with economic conditions on the island.”
The administration argued that it cannot continue to pay wages in excess of similar jobs in Cyprus.
“We have invited the [employee] unions to meetings on several occasions but they did not attend,” the sources said.
Nonetheless, the sources concluded, “we acknowledge our employees’ right to industrial action.”