Unions representing hotel workers said they are considering industrial action in an attempt to force hoteliers comply with a recently-enacted law governing employment terms, and refrain from hiring staff on individual contracts because they say they can’t find staff.
“What hoteliers need to realise is that since 2016 is going to be a very good year (for the tourism industry), it would be pity for us as Cypriots, as a state and as hoteliers to spoil it ourselves,” Miltos Miltiadou, general secretary of the hotel division of SEK, the right-wing labour union, said in an interview with state radio CyBC on Friday. “From the moment collective agreements and laws are violated, they leave us no other option”.
Miltiadou added that the unions would hold meetings with those employers violating the law governing working hours, remuneration and provident fund contributions in the hotel industry and who employ workers on lesser terms than those in collective agreements, before they report such cases to the labour ministry. “From that moment on, every side is free” to act, he said, adding that a shortage of workers could help the cause of the unions.
A strike in the hotel industry could upset Cyprus’s tourism industry which directly or indirectly accounts for one quarter of the island’s gross domestic product. Cyprus’s economy grew last year 1.6 per cent after exiting a prolonged recession, as a result of which the unemployment rate rose to 16.1 per cent in 2014 before falling to 15 per cent in 2015.
Lefteris Georgiades, who heads the branch responsible for labour relations in the hotel industry in PEO, the AKEL-affiliated union, said that that “the problem” of workers hired based on individual contracts has assumed greater dimensions, affecting “more than half” of hotel workers.
“Under the circumstances caused by the crisis, it is difficult for workers to ask for the application of the collective agreement if they have no support,” Georgiades said. “Even following our interventions, they hesitate to do so on fears related to keeping their job”.
Georgiades added that unions would investigate whether it was lawful for employers to hire workers based on individual contracts, earning as little as €600 a month, while those remunerated according to the provisions of the collective agreements earn twice as much.
“What’s the point of signing collective agreements?” he asked. “We have institutions. If we are going to render them useless, we shall be in a continuous conflict”.
The hospitality industry, which includes hotels and restaurants, employed last year on average 29,525 people or one in 12 workers in Cyprus, compared with 28,420 in 2014, according to Cystat. The number of registered unemployed hospitality workers fell in April to 5,492 from 8,728 the month before and 6,566 in April 2015.
The number of tourists who visited Cyprus last year rose 8.9 per cent to 2,659,405, partly the result of geopolitical developments. Revenue from tourism rose 4.4 per cent to €2.1bn, which was 12 per cent of Cyprus’s gross domestic product.
The chairman of the Cyprus Hotel Association Haris Loizides who was also commenting on CyBC radio, said that what “at this moment matters most is that there are no unemployed hotel workers,” but he added that the policy of showing preference in hiring Cypriots over other workers from European Union countries had resulted in an increasing ratio of Cypriot staffers to up to 75 per cent. This practice had “turned into a boomerang”, he said.
“Unions need to decide who they are representing,” he said, adding that violations of the law governing terms of employment should be referred to the courts instead of serving as an excuse for strike action.
He asked unions to make up their minds whether they were in favour of the application of collective agreements or the implementation of the law adding that “personal contracts are a right enshrined in constitution”.
Lozides said that the gap in the remuneration of workers hired according to the collective agreements and those based on individual contracts is related to the fact that some are permanent workers while the rest are seasonal staff.
“Why should someone remain unemployed if the collective agreement prescribes a €1,400 salary?” he asked.
In her intervention, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou said that the ministry intends to carry out inspections to make sure that the law is not violated in the hotel industry and added that “if there is exploitation, the ministry will stand by the workers”.
She added that he ministry would next week notify about 500 unemployed hotel workers who receive the guaranteed minimum income that they would stop receiving it if they did not accept jobs in the hotel industry offered to them.
“Any person eligible (for guaranteed minimum income) and capable of working is obliged to accept a job” that he or she can perform, Emilianidou added.