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Our View: An unnecessary gesture to the least deserving

EXPLAINING the government’s bizarre decision to give pay rises to promoted public employees, a year earlier than it was necessary, finance minister Harris Georgiades said it was “reasonable to start the wage bill normalisation procedure this way.” This was a “reasonable first step with an imperceptible fiscal effect, ahead of the greater step that we shall undertake in 2017,” he said.

This is an accountant’s way of looking at the matter. Georgiades spoke like an accountant in claiming there would be no fiscal impact and it is no wonder the decision was criticised by his own party. DISY chief, Averof Neophytou, quite correctly, pointed out that promoted staff could have waited until the end of 2016, “like the thousands of other workers in the public and semi-public sectors,” and asked: “what messages are we sending to the private sector?”

Quite clearly, the message the government wanted to send, was directed to the public employees, whom it felt obliged to pander to because their union had agreed to the major reforms that would be introduced in the civil service. Under-secretary to the president Constantinos Petrides said as much on a radio show last week, arguing that we should see the bigger picture, which is one way of seeing the matter.

But there is another bigger picture that the government was not interested in – that the government will give in to public employees even when it does not have to. There is an agreement for zero pay rises until the end of 2016. When promotions were made, PASYDY had agreed that those promoted would not receive the pay rise the higher position commanded until the start of 2017. So why did the government not stick to the agreement? Why had it felt obliged to make this unnecessary gesture, from which some 600 public employees will benefit, even if there was no fiscal impact?

The impression created was that the government will follow the irresponsible fiscal behaviour of previous governments as soon as we exit the assistance programme in March. It would be no surprise if some other pay-rises were granted by next June as a goodwill gesture to public employees for agreeing to more reforms. But should they be rewarded for agreeing to reforms that are designed to make the civil service run more efficiently and offer a half-decent service to citizens?

We think not. It is an affront for the government to grant pay rises to a group of workers who have suffered the least from the recession and had to make the fewest sacrifices. But perhaps it wanted to reassure civil servants that their status as the privileged workers of Cyprus was untouchable.

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