By Evie Andreou
CYPRUS’ main trade unions on Wednesday pledged to spend 2016 battling to restore the lost rights of members and to continue the struggle for the improvement of working conditions.
Right-wing affiliated SEK union, said that in 2016 it would pursue the implementation of a number of measures aiming at the improvement the conditions of employees and to intensify its efforts toward the punishment of all those responsible for the country’s financial meltdown.
It also sent a message of solidarity to Turkish Cypriots, asking them to contribute to the intensification of common actions aiming at “the positive outcome of the settlement negotiations with the hope of reuniting the island, to be rid off the occupation army and to the establishment of conditions of permanent peace and prosperity for everyone…”
The past year, it said was another painful one for workers but following four years of deep economic depression, in 2015 there had been growth, public finances had improved substantially, and “galloping unemployment was halted and brought under control”. “In a few months we expect to be free from the yoke of the troika of international lenders,” it added.
SEK said that in 2016 it would claim better living standards, further promote state social policies, and the “gradual recovery of income and benefits lost in previous years”.
AKEL affiliated PEO union, invited all employees, to “battle united” to restore labour rights, for an end to the austerity policy, and for a fair distribution of growth.
“Our expectation is for 2016 to bring the desired solution of the Cyprus problem and the reunification of our country and people,” the union said.
The union criticised the government for the “neoliberal restructuring of the economy on the basis of the MoU”, and of the “harsh austerity measures” agreed with the troika, which resulted in a “major setback” as regards the living standards of workers, and led to widened social inequalities.
Unemployment was still high, it said, with around 65,000 people out of work, two thirds of whom had been jobless for more than six months. Also inside of two years, 30,000 people had emigrated.
“Cyprus has the largest decrease in wages among the 28 EU countries and as a result the purchasing power of the average salary in 2016 will be set back by 20 years,” the union said. It said Cyprus had the greatest income inequality across the EU, while poorer pensioners had lost 30 per cent of their income and 240,000 people were living at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
PEO said that in 2016 the “labour force” should “strike back” to restore lost rights. Among its priorities, it said, was to also tackle unemployment, demand development policies aimed at creating new jobs, an extension of the unemployment benefit and restoring the benefits cut from pensioners and other social groups.
DEOK union, which is affiliated with socialist party EDEK, called on workers to claim the future they deserve “dynamically and with decisiveness”.
It too criticised the government for not delivering what it promised, and said that the social welfare state was replaced by food banks and “the peanuts that constituted the guaranteed minimum income”.
Decent salaries, it added, had been replaced with poverty-line wages and working conditions were fit more “for serfs rather than proud and dignified workers”.