By Angelos Anastasiou
PASYDY’s general council, the governing body of the public sector employees’ union, on Monday approved the executive committee’s decision to stage a 24-hour warning strike on Friday in protest against the government’s intention to reduce public servants’ salary and pension benefits, declining even to engage in discussion.
Following Monday’s extraordinary session, PASYDY’s decision was announced by the union’s head Glafcos Hadjipetrou, who said the union refused to enter into dialogue with the government on this issue.
“What is the point of entering negotiations for a fully secured right?” he asked rhetorically. “It is a right extended to all public servants, which is constitutionally and legally secured.”
The union’s leader argued that in a contract of employment, a newly employed public servant weighs the incentives offered by the public sector, and accepts the position based on these incentives.
“The incentives can’t be withdrawn after the fact,” he said.
The measure is to be decided on during Tuesday’s session of the Council of Ministers.
Asked what the union’s next steps will be in case the tax levy is approved, Hadjipetrou said Friday’s strike is only a warning, and added that “the competent bodies will convene to decide on further measures.”
“We will defend our rights,” he said. “We are saying that whatever right has been revoked from public servants has been revoked by unconstitutional laws, and we have appealed them before the Supreme Court. We fully expect to be vindicated and have no doubts as to the rightness of our positions.”
Hadjipetrou said that the effort to mislead the public into believing that the economy’s problem should be paid for by public servants is futile, since “it has been proven beyond any doubt that the economic crisis came from the banking sector.”
“It is sad that the finance minister himself never misses an opportunity to mention the public payroll and argues that unless we remove public servants’ rights we will plummet back into crisis,” he said. “We never plummeted into crisis because of public servants, but because of the banking sector. Naturally, some must pay for their crime against the people of Cyprus, which has led thousands of our fellow citizens into unemployment and poverty.”
The decision to strike was also adopted by left-wing union SIDIKEK-PEO, an affiliate of communist AKEL.
The executive committee of OIO-SEK, which represents semi-governmental employees among others, has also announced measures against the government’s intended unilateral actions.
Following a meeting on Monday, the union’s head Andreas Elia said that due to certain particularities of semi-governmental organisations, such as telecoms company CyTA or the power company EAC, the body decided to limit its strike on Friday to three hours, “out of respect to citizens and the inconvenience they may be subjected to”.
Nonetheless, Elia said that as far as his union is concerned, cuts on pension benefits and turning temporary cuts into permanent ones are unacceptable and any action by the state in this direction will incur a reaction.
Asked whether the union is ready to alter its decision should the Council of Ministers refrain from discussing these matters, Elia said the measures are not an end in themselves.
“If there is no reason to strike, SEK will revoke its decision to the benefit of the economy and the public,” he said. “Social peace is of primary concern to us.”
EAC employees’ union rep Andreas Panorkos assured the public that no power cuts would take place while CyTA employees’ rep Yiannakis Evagorou also said the public will remain unaffected by the strike though its telecom shops would remain closed until 10:30 am on Friday.
Finance Minister Harris Georgiades described the unions’ announcements as an overreaction.
Speaking on state TV, Georgiades said that “every corner of distortion and injustice that may exist in the public sector must be looked at.”
“That is how we came to decisions on shift and overtime pay last year,” he said. “And it is the same way the previous government either abolished or reduced some relevant handouts. I don’t believe this matter should be taboo, where even reflection on the issue of retirement bonuses payable in the public sector is forbidden.”
The finance minister insisted that he considers the tax-free retirement bonus a “distortion”, but revealed that his remarks last week to this effect were his own musings and did not necessarily reflect the government’s position.
“I believe that there is an issue of distortion with regard to the retirement bonus, and that it would be right to examine it in the context of long-term correction of distortions,” he said. “That is my personal take as finance minister, not a government decision.”
He said that he will exchange views in Tuesday’s cabinet meeting on the matter and defer to any political decision made.
But while attesting his respect for the right to strike, Georgiades also attached a barb for the unions’ decision.
“I do not challenge workers’ right to strike, nor to select to do so on a Friday, thus creating a long weekend for themselves,” he noted. “It is their decision and it is duly respected.”
While Georgiades claimed that no decision has been made yet, high-level government sources, who commented less than favourably on the finance minister’s diplomatic skills, appeared sceptical of his confrontational stance.
They tried to defuse the situation by arguing that the bonus didn’t necessarily need to be reduced through taxation, but could instead be handed out in annual instalments, which would relieve the government’s budget on an annual basis.
The rationale for such a proposal, the sources said, is that the government’s newly-implemented Guaranteed Minimum Income scheme is short approximately €100 million, which the Troika demands that the government finds somewhere in its annual budgets, resulting in Georgiades’ “musings”.
By Angelos Anastasiou