Cyprus Mail

Attorney-general unimpressed with progress on bill governing strikes

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou

Attorney-general Costas Clerides walked out of a discussion in parliament on regulating strikes in essential services, telling MPs to agree first on the text of a bill and then ask him to give his legal opinion.
MPs were discussing a bill submitted by ruling DISY and the text of a consultation between Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou and labour unions.
Parties have been arguing over the matter since DISY chief Averof Neophytou submitted the proposal amid a nurse strike last month, which caused problems to patients.
Neophytou’s proposal initially included penalties for those who broke the law, but they were later removed in a bid to achieve consensus.
It provided for jail time of not more than two years and or a fine of up to €3,000 for anyone breaking the law.
At the same time, the House Labour Committee had authorised Emillianidou to consult with unions.
Clerides told MPs that haste was the worst guide on a matter that has been pending for years and could not be resolved in one night.
He noted that there was no agreement on the text of a bill for him to give his legal opinion and left the committee.
Emilianidou said her consultations with the unions were based on agreements made in 2004 and 2005 and the industrial relations code concerning essential services.
The unions had agreed on certain terms when striking, including the provision of skeleton staff where necessary.
The document prepared following the consultations, proposed that provisions of the 2004 and 2005 agreements must apply to all industrial disputes in the defined essential services.
In the event of a disagreement, the minster would appoint an arbitration committee that will set the minimum level of service inside 24 hours. The decision will be binding.
The 2004-2005 agreements do not provide for any sanctions and were widely observed by unions. However, new nurses union PASYNO, which went on strike on March 15, had threatened a couple of weeks later to escalate its measures by removing emergency staff.
DISY said its proposal simply mandated that all unions, including ones created after the law was approved, must abide by certain rules.
Labour Committee chairman, AKEL MP Andreas Fakondis, said DISY insisted on putting to the vote the initial bill it had proposed, including sanctions, if its verbal proposal, to remove penalties, was not accepted.
Unions said the necessary dialogue had not been conducted.
AKEL claims DISY’s proposal was simply a pretext to render workers unable to react to employers’ manoeuvres.
DISY MP Nicos Nouris said the point of contention were the penalties but alternatives had been submitted.
“We did not try to criminalise strikes, but to protect the economy and the people’s right to” unobstructed access to essential services.
He accused AKEL of using procedural excuses to stop DISY’s proposal, which was still on the table, and urgent, in light of what happened during the nurses strike.
Nouris reiterated that the proposal only aimed at binding workers in essential services, including new unions. He added that his party was not hastily trying to pass something new.

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