By Constantinos Psillides
PRESIDENT Nicos Anastasiades made a last minute attempt last night to prevent tomorrow’s public sector employee strike by arranging to meet at 10am today with PASYDY boss Glafcos Hadjipetrou and representatives from the teachers unions POED and OELMEK.
If union bosses are unconvinced, the 12-hour warning strike will go ahead as planned, to protest the government’s plan to tax the retirement bonus of civil servants.
Hadjipetrou, who made it clear yesterday that he will not enter into any negotiation, met with Finance Minister Harris Georgiades for 90 minutes yesterday but failed to reach an agreement.
Joining the strike from 7am to 7pm will be the state doctors – who plan to stage a longer 24 hour strike – along with elementary and high-school teachers, as well as police officers. PASYDY issued a statement yesterday explaining that every precaution has been taken so as to ensure public safety during the strike. Essential services will be staffed with skeleton crews, although rural hospitals and out-patient facilities will be closed.
Army officers won’t take part in the strike, neither will air-traffic controllers.
Semi-governmental employees have also decided not to take part in the strike, as trade unions PEO and SEK decided to revoke their decision for a 3-hour stoppage.
University of Cyprus staff decided not to support the strike and issued a statement saying that classes will be held as planned.
The PASYDY delegation met with Georgiades, following a letter the minister sent on Tuesday to all unions inviting them to negotiate, explaining that the retirement bonus won’t be taxed but instead paid out in annual instalments so as not to burden public finances.
“Nothing is on the table when it comes to the retirement bonus. By law, the bonus cannot be taxed or cut or paid in instalments. There should be a reaction against the assault on public sector employees’ rights. The retirement bonus should not even have come up,” Hadjipetrou said shortly after the meeting with the Finance minister.
“Nothing has changed since we first took the decision to strike. We heard what the minister said and we are not satisfied. We will not consent to a further trampling of our salary and retirement rights. We demand that the state respects those rights. Our income has been cut by 30 per cent and the number of public sector employees has been dramatically reduced, forcing those left to work much harder to cope with the work load,” Hadjipetrou added.
The PASYDY boss pointed out that he was more than willing to discuss ways of restructuring the public sector, provided that it didn’t include pay cuts or cuts to the retirement bonus.
“It is us unfair that these employees should be targeted to take the fall for the financial crisis, which is entirely the banking sector’s fault. Nobody challenges that anymore. The crisis was caused by the banks but it was paid for by public and private sector employees.”
Asked by reporters to suggest alternative means of coming up with the €150m the government needs, Hadjipetrou argued that it shouldn’t come off the salaries of employees.
The state desperately needs money to cover the cost of the guaranteed minimum income (GMI) payments, since the applications filed for state aid far exceeded projections.
PEO chief Pambis Kiritsis told reporters that the Minister promised that taxing the retirement bonus “was out of the question”.
“He made it clear that there will be no unilateral attempt by the government to tax the retirement bonus. We argued that the employees have suffered enough and the minister agreed,” Kiritsis said, adding that both sides have agreed to discuss government suggestions on the possibility of extending the 1.5 per cent wage cut for healthcare to semi-government employees.