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Our View: Bailout exit could not have come at a worse time

A WORSE time for Cyprus’ exit from the assistance programme could not have been chosen.  It coincides with a parliamentary election campaign, a time when the populist irresponsibility of political parties is at its zenith and unions make particularly unreasonable demands knowing they would have the full support of the politicians. This is the time when what little prudence and restraint exercised in political life completely disappears as politicians focus on buying votes with the taxpayer’s money.

This campaign is looking particularly worrying, our politicians showing that they had learnt nothing from what had happened to the country in the last few years and appearing determined to return to the old, recklessly short-sighted ways of doing things. Like convicts, who have been released after a long spell in prison, they now want to make up for the lost time – the three years they were forced by the Troika to behave in a relatively responsible way – by upping their crude demagoguery.

The unprecedented industrial unrest we have been witnessing in the last few weeks is a consequence of the exit from the assistance programme, made worse by the parliamentary elections. There is an indefinite strike at state hospitals because nurses want substantial pay increases, while non-striking nurses belonging to a rival union are threatening to follow suit as a show of solidarity; workers struck and closed down Limassol port for four days, in an attempt to prevent the taking over of its operation by private businesses. Meanwhile, Electricity Authority workers have voted to go on indefinite strike on April 6, because they want to block the government’s plan to split the organisation into two separate entities.

This industrial action is fully supported and actively encouraged by all the political parties except DISY. In the case of Limassol port, it was no secret the strike was called by the AKEL-controlled union PEO, despite the disagreement of the rival union SEK. The workers had claimed they had called a strike because they wanted the legislature to delay discussing the privatisation bill by a week so they could have additional consultations with the government about their ‘rights’ under the new regime, but on Wednesday voted to continue the strike despite having their demand satisfied by the parties. On Thursday afternoon some common sense was shown, when PEO workers decided to return to work, but for how long nobody knows.

AKEL needs to incite class struggle in order to rally the support ahead of elections. Last Monday the AKEL chief had the audacity to attack PASYDY for allegedly having aligned itself with the government as part of the plan to cut wages in the public sector! If that happened – it drew an immediate denial from the union – responsible parties should have applauded it instead of censuring the union. AKEL and the rest of the parties have already forgotten that the absurdly high public payroll is one of the main reasons for the collapse of the economy and the need for a bailout.

The communists like all the other parties are fully behind the scandalous demand of the nurses for higher entry level wages that would cost the taxpayer an additional €40 million a year and spark similar demands, if accepted, by other workers in the public sector. All the parties, with the exception of DISY, are complaining that patients are being put at risk because of the government’s resolute stand, ignoring the real issue – nurses are shamelessly putting lives at risk in order to boost their earnings. In election time, blackmail the puts lives at risk has the full moral backing of the parties.

It is not as if the government has been setting a good example or been consistent with regard to spending. The shortening of military service, an electoral decision if ever there was one, would lead to the hiring of 3,000 soldiers at an additional cost to the annual payroll in excess of €30 million. And then there is the offer of public sector jobs to all the workers of CyTA and the Ports Authority who will not want to work under the new regime at the respective organisations. It has also squandered close to €30 million as compensation to Limassol port workers for surrendering the privileges they enjoyed and in order to agree to the contracting out of the running of Limassol port.

It is a frightening situation that suggests we have learned nothing from the experience of the last years. Earlier in the week the Citizens’ Alliance leader, in an attempt at being funny, said the ‘success story’ the government was boasting about was a ‘failure story’. The real ‘failure story’ is being written again now by politicians, who have learnt nothing from their disastrous mistakes of the past.

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