By Elias Hazou
THE Attorney-general’s office is drawing up legislation that would, under certain conditions, make the denial of minimum essential services to the public a criminal offence.
The office has been asked by the President to hammer out a law in the wake of rolling power cuts caused by strikes at the Electricity Authority of Cyprus. The outages yesterday knocked out traffic lights across the island and left dozens of people trapped in elevators.
There is currently no blanket legislation governing the provision of essential services. An arbitration mechanism for resolving labour disputes does exist, but the procedures are time consuming.
Details are sketchy, but it’s understood that the law now being worked on will be designed for faster enforcement.
It will also oblige utilities to maintain minimum essential services and skeleton staff, sources at the Attorney-general’s office said. Non-compliance would be a criminal offence.
As work on the legislation has just begun, the sources could not provide more details, nor could they say when a bill might reach parliament.
The country has been hit with a wave of industrial action by employees of semi-governmental organisations protesting government plans for privatisation.
Strikes and/or work-to-rule actions have been taken by the Electricity Authority, the telecommunications authority and port workers.
Through its spokesman, the government has denounced the actions, saying it considers “unacceptable” any attempt to blackmail it by holding hostage services that are essential to the public.
Diminished activity at the ports in particular has taken its toll on commerce. It prompted businessmen to urge the government to issue a decree compelling dockworkers to return to work.
Other laws and regulations already in place define essential services as those services “of which the disruption would endanger the life, personal safety or health of all or part of the population.”
Designated essential services include uninterrupted electricity, and ensuring water supply, telecommunications, air transport and air traffic control, the functioning of hospitals, prisons, ports, and repair and upkeep of electromechanical facilities at the police, fire department and the army.
In 2012, responding to repeated industrial action by air traffic controllers, parliament enacted legislation geared to limit strikes. 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 season (May-October) and 50 per cent during the rest of the year.
A legislative proposal, drawn up at around the same time by DISY provided for a more general framework for dealing with strikes, but it was eventually shelved.