IF PRESIDENT Anastasiades wanted to advertise the government’s weakness and lack of resolve in dealing with the unions he could not have chosen a better way to do this than to bow to the threat of strike action. The unions only had to mention the word ‘strike’ in protest against a government proposal for the taxation of public employees’ retirement bonus for the president to make a public retreat.
Such political spinelessness was reminiscent of the Christofias presidency which, in the name of consensus, dutifully obeyed the diktats of the union bosses. And Anastasiades does not have the excuse of being a communist, in which case, the servility he has shown towards the arrogant union bosses in the last few days would have been understandable. But, like Christofias, he is a populist, terrified of taking decisions that would adversely affect his approval rating.
The front page headline of yesterday’s Haravghi, the AKEL mouthpiece, put the matter in a nutshell, saying, ‘Plan B… before the dialogue on plan a’. The issue of the tax had been mentioned by finance minister Haris Georgiades at the start of last week and there was an immediate reaction by the public sector unions, led by Pasydy. On Friday, once unions representing teachers, civil servants, municipal employees and hospital staff warned of a strike, Anastasiades started making a retreat.
He called union bosses to assure them that the government had not taken such a decision and that the tax on the retirement bonus was just a proposal. Yet the truth was that the matter had been discussed with the troika representatives that had demanded the government cut €100 million from its 2015 budget spending and the government proposed a tax on the retirement bonus paid to public employees. Anastasiades was present at the meeting, something that made his back-tracking – not to mention his disowning of the proposal – even more difficult to swallow.
As his first concession, he announced that Georgiades was to meet union representatives this week to discuss the proposal. On Monday, before a meeting had been arranged and without any negotiations with the unions, journalists were informed by the palace that the government had come up with a compromise proposal – the retirement bonus would not be taxed but be paid in annual instalments over five years. This was an embarrassing surrender to the unions, with the government not even attempting to take a stand.
Was it any wonder that the union bosses, who had met on Monday to formalise the strike plans for Friday, arrogantly declared that they would not meet the finance minister because their tax-free retirement bonus was non-negotiable? Nothing less should have been expected given the weakness betrayed by Anastasiades’ bizarre behaviour.