Limassol port workers went on an indefinite strike on Monday in a bid to avert MPs from discussing a bill on the port’s privatisation later this week.
Deputies are set to discuss the privatisation bill on Thursday, however unions want to pressure Parliament to postpone the discussion until their future employment and pension benefits have been fully settled.
They claim the bill does not safeguard their future and the voluntary retirement plan offered to them from the government was “peanuts”.
Transport Minister Marios Demetriades said he was surprised by the move.
“We had very fruitful meeting with the unions on Friday. Nothing else is outstanding as far as their labour rights are concerned,” he said.
“Today we have approved the plan we have already agreed on with the unions and it concerns early retirement – an additional benefit we offer to whoever wants to take it. On Thursday, the regulations will head to Parliament for a vote.”
Andreas Georgiou, general secretary of SYALK union, said strikers would head to Parliament on Thursday “to protest in case discussion of the bill over privatisation of the Ports Authority is not postponed.”
If their demand is granted then employees were ready to go back to work and engage in more dialogue. If not, the strike would continue and maybe more measures would be taken he said.
The port pilots’ service also began a strike on Monday after announcing measures last week following a “humiliating” bid for the port’s marine services as part of the privatisation process. But as a “sign of goodwill”, Georgiou said “we serviced all the private ships which came to the port this morning.”
Cargo ships were also serviced, he added.
Commenting on the marine services bid, SIDIKEK PEO union rep Glafkos Constantinou said the Ports Authority, as a supervisor of the winning tenders for the privatisation process, would receive just 10 per cent of the profits that the investor would make. At present, the profits are much larger.
“Based on our calculations, the profit for the investor will be €8 million per year because the tariff for the particular service will change and it is humiliating for the Port Authority to get €800,000 (10 per cent) coughing up €7.2m and keep staff with €5m worth of costs,” he said.
The minister warned of the dangers of port workers going on strike for their future employment prospects. “Investors, after seeing people strike for no essential reason could perhaps be having second thoughts about hiring people from the current staff,” he said.
Demetriades also blamed “political motives” behind the strike measures, stressing the privatisation process would benefit the public and it was unacceptable such decisions were taken, at a time when 45,000 people in Cyprus were unemployed.
A meeting was also scheduled to take place in Larnaca on Tuesday morning to decide whether employees at Larnaca port will also follow suit.