Cyprus Mail

CY staff want job guarantees

By Constantinos Psillides

CYPRUS Airways (CY) employees want the government to guarantee that if the airline is sold nobody will be let go, while laying the blame for the current state of affairs on “the amateurism of the party hacks appointed to manage or be part of the company board.”

Following an emergency meeting hosted at SEK headquarters in Nicosia yesterday, CY employees marched to the presidential palace and made their demands known by handing a resolution to the head of the President’s office, Panayiotis Antoniou.

“We want to express our outrage and disappointment over what’s happening concerning Cyprus Airways. Recent statements by ministers and the way the procedure for securing a strategic investor is proceeding makes us wonder whether the company will keep going,” said Antonis Neofitou, head of SIDIKEK-PEO.

Neofitou was referring to the efforts made by the state to find a strategic investor interested in the ailing carrier. Media reports suggest that out of the nine companies that expressed interest in acquiring CY, the state decided to invite only two to submit a business plan, low-cost carrier Ryanair and Greece’s scheduled carrier Aegean Airline.

Employees at CY consider these companies “hostile” maintaining that they are only interested in acquiring the Cyprus Airways brand name and take advantage of the bilateral agreements that Cyprus has signed with countries in the Middle East, which stipulate that only a single airline based on the island can fly to those destinations. The employees fear that once these companies take over CY they will let the majority go or proceed with major pay cuts.

“We ask the government to consider its actions, consider the importance Cyprus Airways has as the country’s national carrier. In the event of future investors filing binding proposals, we want them to secure the company’s staff,” read the resolution, adding that “the sacrifices the staff made so the company can stay afloat for the last ten years are well documented.”

The employees warned in their resolution to the President that if CY closes down then the financial and political consequences will be dire.

Speaking on state broadcaster CyBC, Finance minister Harris Georgiades said that it is likely that the European Commission will rule that CY has to return to the state all funds it received as state aid, which equals bankruptcy since CY has sold all of it’s assets, with the exception of €21m it got from selling time-slots at London’s Heathrow airport.

Efforts to sell off the carrier are hampered by an EU probe into a €73m rescue package the company received in 2012, and a €31.3m capital increase in early 2013. The EU commission is looking into whether Cyprus violated market regulations by providing the carrier with state aid.

The SIDIKEK-PEO head claimed that this is a carefully orchestrated ploy by the government to sell CY off without facing a political cost. “The government tricked everyone. They were just stalling so the EU could close Cyprus Airways down by forcing them to return the state aid they received.”

Andreas Elia, a SEK representative, told CyBC that entering into negotiations with two companies that are only looking to make a profit is unacceptable. “It’s a mistake to deal with companies that are only interested in the brand name and bilateral agreements. Politicians should have made a better case before the EU Council to make sure that Cyprus Airways escapes the EU probe unscathed,” he said.

Petros Souppouris, head of the pilot’s union PASYPI told CyBC radio that the government abandoned CY and sold off all its assets gradually, in order to prime the company up for acquisition by the highest bidder at a low price.

“The bilateral agreements alone are worth millions. Politicians should do their best so Cyprus Airways implements a restructuring plan that mirrors EU requirements and regulations so it can become a thriving company once more,” he said.

Souppouris claimed that other national carriers in EU member states faced similar financial problems but with the help of their governments they pulled through. “They overcame their problems. We didn’t. And it is because the board of directors and management positions were being filled by appointed amateur party hacks.”

PASYPI issued a statement saying that the only way Cyprus Airways is to survive is if foreign experts are put in charge of the company and granted executive power.

The pilots union didn’t take part in the emergency meeting with the rest of the unions.

In the meantime, the head of the island’s travel agents Dinos Kakouras said that it is very important for the new owner of the company to keep or even improve the airline’s current flight schedule, since it will greatly affect tourism.

“Cyprus Airways carries around 350,000 passengers each year. If the new owner interrupts the current flight schedule the company operates with now, this means that the problem of accessibility to and from Cyprus will become bigger,” Kakouras said.

He also said that at the moment thousands of Cyprus Airways tickets are being issued for the next weeks and months amounting to millions of euros and wondered what will happen if the company closes down.

He used as an example the Hungarian state airline Malev, which three years after its closure, customers have still not been compensated for tickets bought.

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