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OEB drafts bill regulating strikes in essential services

The Employers and Industrialists Federation, which represents 5,000 members employing around over 60 per cent of Cyprus’s work force, has prepared a draft law regulating strikes in essential services and banning them in certain cases.

The services described as essential include the ports, customs, prisons, state owned and private medical facilities, telecommunications, airport transport, including flight control, according to the draft bill obtained by the Cyprus Business Mail.

The bill also bans strikes for those working in the sale and processing of fuel, electricity production and supply, water supply and irrigation, waste disposal, machinery maintenance and repairs at hospitals, ports, airports, as well as in the armed forces, police and fire brigade.

“Following the completion of any sort of dispute resolution procedure, applied pursuant to another law, custom, collective agreement, gentlemen’s agreement, or otherwise, if the dispute in an essential service persists, then it is referred to arbitration,” the bill prepared by the business group, widely known as by its Greek acronym OEB, said.

According to sources familiar with the matter, OEB has already submitted the bill to labour minister Zeta Emilianidou. The Cyprus Business Mail understands that the draft bill came in response to repeated strikes which paralysed or threatened to paralyse key sectors of the economy, including ports, electricity supply, healthcare and others.

Members of nursing union PASYNO have been on strike for a week now demanding higher entry wages. In addition, workers at the Cyprus Ports Authority on Monday decided to paralyse the Limassol port’s operations in response to the government’s plan to privatise its commercial operations, even after the transport ministry and unions agreed on compensation schemes for affected workers.

According to OEB’s bill, a “permanent arbitration committee” consisting of nine members with expertise and experience in industrial relations, or judges or academics, would then rule on the dispute. Four of its members would be proposed by unions, another four by employer organisations, while the labour minister would appoint its president.

Whoever participates, incites or encourages, causes and assists in a strike, or a lockout or in any way prevents a worker from working in an essential service, or in any other way hinders the operations at an essential service, may face up a prison term of up to three years or a €10,000 fine or both, according to the bill.

“Whoever refuses to execute his duty in a reasonably satisfactory manner” or prevents someone else from doing the above also faces the same penalties.

While the arbitration committee’s decisions on issues related to implementing or interpreting a collective agreement or dispute resulting from personal complaints are binding, rulings related to the negotiation of collective agreements, their renegotiation or the negotiation of a new demand are non-binding.

If a party rejects the non-binding rule of the arbitration committee, it has the right to a strike or a lockout after a “cooling-off period of 30 days”, according to the draft law. In that case, a skeleton staff has to ensure that a minimum service is provided.

If a labour dispute arises in the provision of service not listed above puts lives at risk or harms national and public interests, then the council of ministers may declare the affected service as essential per decree published in the government’s official gazette, the bill says.

With two months remaining until parliament elections are held, it appears unlikely that the bill will have a chance to be even debated at the parliament. Andros Kyprianou, secretary general of communist AKEL with close ties with unions, rejected any notion of “criminalising strikes” in a tweet on March 18.

Averof Neofytou, chairman of DISY which is traditionally the political party that supports economic reforms the most, said on Monday that while DISY is not intending to submit a draft law on strikes, it was AKEL and the Christofias government that submitted legislation to the parliament regulating strikes by flight controllers four years ago.

The secretary general of the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry Marios Tsiakkis said that while his organisation was not involved in the preparation of the draft bill, it does support the regulation of strikes by law.

“We don’t want to ban strikes in essential services but if they take place then there has to be a skeleton staffing in affected sectors,” he said.

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