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Business Cyprus

EAC staff go all out to fight sell-off

EAC workers protesting against privatisation earlier in the year

By Angelos Anastasiou

THE vast majority of employees of the semi-state power company (EAC) have resumed their struggle against the privatisation of the company by the government, with mass appeals to the Supreme Court requesting the repeal of the Council of Ministers’ decision slating it for privatisation.

Over 80 per cent of EAC employees – 1,736 out of some 2,500 – have filed individual appeals to the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the decision to privatise violated the constitution, according to employee union head Andreas Panorkos.

In March, the government voted to privatise several semi-state organisations, including telecoms giant CyTA , the EAC and the Ports Authority, so that it can raise some much-needed cash and boost competitiveness. The effort was soon met with resistance by semi-state employees, who went on strike and held protests – with some violence – outside the House on the day the privatisation bill was being voted.

“Over 1,700 colleagues, backed by employee unions, have filed individual appeals with the Supreme Court in order to reverse the Council of Ministers’ decision that renders the EAC eligible for privatisation,” Panorkos said.

Appealing employees seek to base their repeal request on “protecting their organisation” which they consider as functioning under a constitutional clause that mandates it with serving the public interest. According to Panorkos, the action represents EAC employees’ “initial response with regard to legal aspects.”

“We have opinions from various legal consultants, and we have prior opinions from former Attorneys General, the late Kriton Tornaritis and Alecos Markides,” he said. “There are various opinions that suggest what we feel to be true.”

But Panorkos went a step further, warning the government that further action on privatising the power company would be met with additional countermeasures.

“Those who want to privatise the company are aware that these proceedings will be lengthy and may feel that this will make their job easier,” he said. “In that case, they will find us in their way.”

Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides adopted a conciliatory tone, acknowledging employees’ right to oppose decisions and explore all legal avenues available to them, while attempting to explain the expected benefits of privatisation.

“They have every right to use all legal means at their disposal, just like every Cypriot citizen,” Christodoulides said. “But privatisations can become a tool to attract investments at a time when investments are most needed, and they can help boost efficiency and competitiveness.

But he held firm on the government’s resolve to proceed with privatisations while engaging with employees, whose rights, he said, would be fully respected.

“This will be done in a way that secures the employees’ rights,” he said. “In this context, the labour ministry has already prepared the guidelines of the joint advisory committee which will include employee representatives, and soon a meeting with ministry officials will be scheduled, so that preliminary discussions can be held.”

In the end, Christodoulides left no room for doubts on whether the government was at all fazed or contemplated accommodating Panorkos’ threats.

“The Privatisations Unit will be fully functional by the end of this month,” he said. “The next step will be to select the specialised consultants for each organisation, to help implement the decision.”

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