By George Psyllides
THE taxpayers are the owners of state organisations and not the workers, Finance Minister Harris Georgiades said yesterday as unions contemplated their next move after the approval by parliament of a privatisations roadmap they opposed.
Georgiades reiterated that the rights of the workers were fully secured and that they would be part of the consultations before any decisions were made.
According to the roadmap, conditional to the next tranche of international aid as part of the bailout plan, state telecoms CyTA, electricity utility EAC, and the ports authority are headed for restructuring and privatisation in stages by 2018, earning the state some €1.4bn.
“Workers are not the owners of semi-government organisations (SGOs),” Georgiades told state broadcaster CyBC. “They are workers and not owners. The owners are the Cypriot citizens and they bear the right and responsibility of the final decisions through the elected government and parliament.”
Unions at the three main SGOs – CyTA, EAC and the ports – fiercely opposed the privatisations bill, holding successive strikes in recent weeks resulting in power interruptions, work-to-rule at Cytashops and the closure of Limassol port.
Workers fear they will lose their rights when the organisations are taken over by private owners.
The minister made it clear that none of their rights would be lost.
“There is no reason for the workers to be concerned about losing their jobs,” he said.
The organisations would nevertheless have to restructure prior to privatisation.
That will mean shedding jobs, but unlike the private sector, Georgiades said, where people are made redundant or sacked, they would have the option of taking a generous voluntary retirement plan.
“Unfortunately, there is a surplus of staff. If the desire is to at least keep labour and pension rights then it must be understood that there cannot be excess staff,” the minister said.
Unions for the time being were contemplating their next move.
CyTA’s EPOET and OHO SEK said the law safeguarded the labour rights status quo on the one hand but deferred full clarification to a later stage.
Earlier yesterday, a union rep said the main issue was that the bill did not contain an explicit provision regarding the permanency of workers – a point that unions had demanded.
Elias Demetriou said this could raise legal issues and create problems for investors who could face numerous lawsuits.
EAC unions on the other hand said they will embark on a campaign to provide people with the correct information because there had been an effort to show SGOs in a bad light.
“A battle was lost yesterday (Tuesday) but it does not mean we are quitting,” Adonis Yiasemides said. “We will do all we can to keep the organisation public.”
Yiasemides said they will look into the matter and prepare proposals that will match the terms of a bailout, in a bid to prevent the sale of the EAC.