By Peter Stevenson
Parliament was surrounded on Thursday by hundreds of protestors during the plenum session to vote on the privatisation bill, with employees from the Electricity Authority (EAC), Telecoms Company (CyTA) and the Cyprus Port Authority (CPA) who were joined by 18 left-wing trade unions and other organisations.
Police arrived early at the House to prepare the ground and set up enough barricades to prevent protestors from approaching, following a number of incidents on Monday.
More than 200 police officers from the rapid response unit, the anti-terror unit and the traffic department were on duty to make sure traffic flowed and that protestors remained at a distance from the parliament building.
A public address system was set up to allow embittered semi-government (SGO) employees to voice their complaints to the crowd. They called on MPs to reject the privatisation bill and for protestors to refrain from throwing firecrackers.
Despite their pleas, some firecrackers were thrown but did not cause any injuries.
In their efforts to obtain the public’s support which has dwindled following a number of power cuts on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, EAC employees handed out an information leaflet during the protest.
They claim that the government did not listen to the EAC’s suggestions 15 years ago to import natural gas, which would have provided Cyprus with cheaper electricity. On EAC bills the VAT is 19 per cent while in the majority of European countries, VAT on electricity is just 5 per cent. The cost of labour on an electricity bill is just 7.0 per cent so, the leaflet said. It said even if all of the EAC’s staff was sacked, the price of electricity would not decrease as long as the same fuel continues to be used.
“EAC bills include fines sanctioned by the EU for high emissions because oil is used as fuel,” the leaflet said, adding “With privatisation, the cost of electricity will rise and the profits will go to private companies”.
According to the EAC employees, Qatari investors gave the first indication of their demands by saying they want to double profits from 6.0 per cent as it stands now to 12 per cent.
“Even if they fire half of the staff they would not be able to cover the difference! Maybe they plan to increase the price of electricity,” they said.
Through privatisation, the whole system’s reliability will decrease, the employees claim because a private company will want to maximise their profits and will neglect the maintenance and development of the system.
“This happens in many countries (look at America and England for example) and through privatisation the state will lose millions in yearly profits which it receives from the EAC,” the leaflet added.
The employees added that members of OEV and KEVE – the industrialists federation and the chamber of commerce – who are against the EAC still owe tens of millions of euros to the authority for electricity use.
“The EAC is helping people out with payment plans on their electricity bills. Would a private company do the same? With its agricultural police the EAC has donated millions to help develop agriculture. Would a private company do the same?” the employees asked.
They concluded that following a discussion at Parliament in England, MPs admitted that privatisations were not a success and that in Bulgaria people overthrew the government because of it.
Employees from the three SGOs gathered outside parliament along with a number of left-wing trade unions while deputies were inside discussing and voting on the much debated privatisation bill.
For EAC and CyTA employees it was the third day of strikes while CPA employees joined for a 24-hour strike.
Port workers are still abstaining from working overtime and with the upcoming three-day weekend there is a possibility that the ports could be gridlocked until Tuesday.
EAC trade unions announced on Wednesday that there would be no power cuts on Thursday in contrast to the first two days of their strike when there had been power cuts of at least one hour for the majority of people around the island.
Personnel remained on stand-by for any emergencies or malfunctions.
CyTA call centres and shops remained closed but were due to re-open at midnight. EAC service centres will also re-open on Friday.