Cyprus Mail

Our View: Economy has been held hostage by port workers for months

PORT WORKERS decided to call off their absurd industrial action from yesterday, after they were threatened with dismissal and losing the ultra-generous compensation they had forced the government to give them. The 62 workers took industrial action on Friday forcing seven ships scheduled to dock in Limassol port to go elsewhere, and had more planned. They were demanding that their €24,000 compensation was paid to them now, even though they would have carried on working at the port until the middle of next year.

This was an outrageous demand, considering the compensation was to be given for the termination of the port workers’ employment. But the government has satisfied plenty of outrageous demands in its drive to open the way for Limassol port’s privatisation, so the port workers could not be blamed for making another one. The fact that they were being compensated by the taxpayer was outrageous as the state was not their employer.

More outrageously, their employers, the licensed port-workers that had been operating a protection racket at the port for decades and will receive close to €500,000 each in compensation from the state, for surrendering their licences, had refused to compensate their employees. Incidentally, licensed port workers will receive another €8 million from the government to carry on their self-serving mismanagement of the port until the new owners take over next year.

So why was the minister of communications Marios Demetriades angry with the port workers’ “unacceptable” demand? His government had satisfied every other “unacceptable” demand made by them. It was the government which upped the original compensation it offered the workers, by 50 per cent, as soon as they started taking industrial action; it was the government that offered the licensed port workers €500,000 each and the grossly inflated €8m for a year’s services. All these unacceptable demands were satisfied, so why not be consistent and pay the unjustified compensation in advance?

Demetriades’ tough talk on Tuesday had a hollow ring. It sounded more like self-parody than a resolute stand when he told state radio “we’re talking about an economy that can’t be held hostage by the behaviour of certain workers.” The economy has been held hostage by the port workers for months – strikes, overtime bans, work to rule – and the government has been constantly increasing the ransom money, showing that blackmail not only works, but is a sure-fire method for workers to have their unacceptable demands satisfied by a weak, populist government.

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