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Cyprus

Public servants say one-day strike ‘just the beginning’

By Angelos Anastasiou

PUBLIC sector union PASYDY chief Glafcos Hadjipetrou yesterday accused the government of launching a crusade against them as employees passed a motion for a one-day warning strike next Friday, and threats of more to come.

Speaking after the meeting, called to protest against the finance ministry ‘proposal to tax public servants’ retirement bonuses, Hadjipetrou lambasted the “targeting” of public servants, calling it a “crusade” against them. He said the finance minister’s remarks were “untimely” and “contrary to common sense.”

“Based on the general principles of administrative law, the state may not defraud its citizens, and when it offers something it may not revoke its offer at a later date, if it has formed a key part of a person’s decision to work in the public sector,” he argued.

Earlier this week, Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, in addition to his revelation about taxing the lump sum, talked of turning the recent salary cuts imposed on government employees into permanent reductions. He later confirmed that the issues would be brought before the cabinet next week.

Yesterday’s PASYDY vote gave the green light to all public sector and broader public sector employees to stage a one- strike next Friday as an initial warning.

“The Executive Committee reminds that despite the repeated cuts against public-sector employees, PASYDY consciously and responsibly refrained from mobilising at the expense of the economy, and limited itself to filing cases with the Supreme Court,” the union said in a statement.

PASYDY was referring to court appeals against the constitutionality of a 2012 law, which exempts retirement lump-sum bonuses for government employees from taxation only until the end of 2012, with any contributions as of January 1, 2013, subject to income tax. The case remains pending with the Supreme Court.

“The Executive Committee was gravely disappointed to note that the finance minister, completely ignoring official assurances and the goodwill shown by the union, insists on promoting new unilateral measures against government employees, whom he continues to target provocatively,” the statement said.

At noon yesterday, PASYDY hosted a meeting of all government-employee unions at its headquarters, in order to come to joint decisions on how to respond to Georgiades’ announcements. The joint session was attended by schoolteachers’ unions OELMEK, OLTEK and POED, school inspectors’ union OEDE, the Police Association, and the National Guard’s staff associations.

Following heated debate in which Hadjipetrou was reported as saying “this is unconstitutional, it can’t pass,” the unions decided to adopt PASYDY’s suggestion to stage a one-day warning strike as an initial measure.

The unions said that measures may escalate “according to developments.”

Friday’s strike will be staged by employees at ministries and government services, schoolteachers and healthcare staff, while the police, fire brigade and army services will participate symbolically through their union heads.

As a result of the strike all public schools will remain closed on Friday.

Police association chief Andreas Symeou said that the measures would be escalated if necessary.
“These measures will have continuity and persistence – we will not settle for warnings,” he said.

OELMEK’s chairman Demetris Taliadoros said that “the raising of the issue by the government was an unnecessary step, as it has tried to stir up an issue that had been settled two years ago.”

“Those who cause strikes should have second thoughts,” he said.

THE strike decision came on the back of a spike in early retirement applications by panicking public servants who wish to receive their bonus before any taxation decision has been made. Sources cited by local daily Phileleftheros claimed that the government was looking at levying a tax of approximately 20 per cent.

Speaking on state radio, Public Service Commission (PSC) head Pavlos Papageorgiou said that although he had noticed a slight increase in applications for early retirement in recent days, which may be considered negligible, he has received numerous phone calls from concerned government employees who have expressed interest in early retirement.

“There is a lead time of about 15 days between filing an application and the application reaching the PSC,” he said. “We might see a serious influx in the coming days.”

Papageorgiou said most interest in retiring early has been exhibited by employees over 60 years of age, who stand to receive the largest bonuses – and thus lose most if they are taxed.

“In many cases in the past, where there have been rumours in the press of incorporating bonuses in the income tax code, there has been increased interest in early retirement,” he said.

“In this case, there is an official announcement that it will be discussed by the Council of Ministers on Tuesday. Following this announcement, all employees with one or two years left to retire stand to have their €100.000 or €150.000 bonus taxed, and they are the ones most concerned.”

Various union reps have revealed that increased interest in early retirement has been expressed by healthcare practitioners, schoolteachers, police officers and employees at port authorities.

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