Cyprus Mail

Power cuts loom as EAC unions announce strike

EAC workers staging a previous demo against privatisation

Unions of the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) will initiate an indefinite strike as of April 6, they decided on Tuesday.

All staff at the state power company will join the strike, meaning power cuts are all but certain.

The syndicates are mobilising to thwart what they see as government plans to privatise the state power company.

In particular, they are protesting against a January 11 cabinet decision for the legal unbundling of the EAC. Under that decision, two organisations would be created, both governed by public law: one for power generation and one for the electricity distribution network.

A government ‘decision in principle’ on the preferred form of unbundling of the EAC was a prior action for the release of the ninth and final tranche of financial assistance by Cyprus’ international lenders.

But Cyprus has since missed the deadline to qualify for the last bailout tranche.

Also on January 11, it was decided that a cabinet decree – dated March 28, 2014 – was to be amended, so that the EAC was exempted from a list of entities subject to privatisation.

But EAC workers insist that the legal unbundling is a backdoor to privatisation.

Head of the EPOPAI trade union Andreas Panorkos pointed out that the decision to exempt the EAC from the list of state enterprises slated to be privatised, was suspect.

Last summer the government submitted to parliament a bill governing the establishment and running of public organisations and state-owned enterprises, known as DOKE by its Greek acronym.

The legislation enables the government of the day to abolish, merge or sell off departments of these organisations without parliamentary approval.

However the bill also states that this does not pertain to public or semi-public organisations slated to be privatised.

But since the EAC is no longer included among the state enterprises to be privatised it is therefore subject to the DOKE bill, which unions fiercely oppose, Panorkos explained to the Cyprus Mail.

Asked whether the strikes could be averted, the trade unionist said only that the ball was now in the government’s court.

“After January 11, we gave the government a grace period. But their actions since have pushed us to this action,” said Panorkos.

He did not rule out power cuts once the strike gets underway.

The unions had been poised to announce strike action back in January, but decided against it after receiving assurances – from President Nicos Anastasiades, among others – that the unbundling was not a fait accompli.

The government had then promised to consider the impact on the energy market from a number of factors – including plans to import natural gas for electricity generation, or the construction of an undersea power cable.

Those pledges served to placate the syndicates temporarily. Now, however, industrial action has once again reared its head after unions got wind of government moves.

As reported by daily Politis, over the past few days energy ministry officials have been in contact with the management of the EAC, seeking to get the latter on board with a road map for the January 11 cabinet decision.

The road map for the EAC’s unbundling was another commitment made by the government to its international lenders – the troika.

But the unions counter that, first, the last bailout tranche is no longer an issue and, second, that Cyprus is in a few days poised to exit the Memorandum of Understanding.

Politis also provided a timeline for the unbundling process. Within 25 weeks (starting on February 1), the government must draft and legally vet three bills amending electricity market laws and a law on state enterprises.

It is estimated the bills would be tabled to parliament by July, with discussion expected to wrap up by November and the items would go to a vote at the plenum.

Once – or if – the new laws have been passed, the unbundling process would begin, which under the road map is expected to be fully implemented by mid-2018.

Should the EAC workers go ahead with their strike, they would add to the industrial unrest already facing the government – and the public – from the ongoing strikes by nurses and the Limassol port pilots.

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