By George Psyllides and Peter Stevenson
PORT workers enforcing a work to rule are dealing a serious blow to the economy, Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos said yesterday, as businesses urged the government to issue a decree compelling them to return to work.
Port workers have been refusing to do any overtime since last Friday, causing huge problems for the island’s struggling economy.
The workers do not work afternoons and weekends, demanding a raise in overtime pay, which was cut by the government as part of an austerity drive that followed the island’s €10 billion bailout.
Port workers demand their overtime pay increase on weekdays at a ratio of 1:1.3 and on weekends and holidays 1:1.75 from the previous 1:1 on weekdays and 1:1.3 on weekends.
“It means ships will remain in the port the whole weekend and this entails a huge cost for the ships and the traders,” said Marios Tsiakkis, general secretary of Cyprus’ chamber of commerce and industry (KEVE).
Tsiakkis said shipping companies were complaining about the cost created by the delays and it is understood that in at least one case, the workers’ action caused hundreds of thousands of euros in damage when perishable goods were left in their containers.
“At a time when the country is plagued by problems and there are 70,000 unemployed … some people insist on irrational demands, in our view, bringing the economy to its knees,” Tsiakkis said.
Tsiakkis urged the state to act using the law on essential services.
“This situation cannot go on. The country must function. If some people want to strike, which is respected, it does not mean they can block the whole country,” he added.
The minister did not appear ready to go to war with the port workers just yet.
The strike measures, he said, “hurt the competitiveness of Cypriot ports and deal a serious blow to the export trade in a difficult period for our economy,” Mitsopoulos said.
In response to repeated industrial action by air traffic controllers, who held the island hostage, parliament in 2012 put into force legislation limiting strike action.
The law set a minimum of air traffic management, which forced air traffic controllers to handle at least 75 per cent of overflights in Nicosia’s Flight Information Region during the summer time (May-October) and 50 per cent during the rest of the year.
Pantelis Stavrou, representative of the SEK trade union, made it clear that his outfit disagreed wit the decision, despite the workers’ demands being justified.
He told the Cyprus Mail that they had suggested suspending measures for a few days pending a new initiative to resolve the matter on Tuesday.
“We didn’t agree. We are in favour of compromise and understanding,” he said, adding that SEK respected the decision nevertheless.