By Evie Andreou and Bejay Browne
Some 23 flights were affected by Wednesday’s two-hour work stoppage at Paphos airport by around 350 workers of the ground services providers Swissport and LGS.
Passengers were further inconvenienced by a second strike called by around 80 taxi drivers who are members of POVEK protesting over parking restrictions at the airport.
Ground services staff stopped work between 2pm and 4pm after they said negotiations with their employers on collective agreements had collapsed.
All ground services were affected including passenger service crews, luggage handlers, drivers and despatchers.
The work stoppage, coordinated by the SEK, PEO, and DEOK unions followed that at Larnaca airport on Monday which lasted 90 minutes.
Wednesday is a notoriously busy day at Paphos airport, and travellers often experience delays even on ‘normal’ operational days. This has led to a raft of passenger complaints, as problems including staff shortages, mean long queues for passenger processing times.
A statement from Hermes Airports, the managing company of both Paphos and Larnaca airports, warned that apart from ‘ruining’ the country’s international image, the stoppages had also caused a ‘heart attack’ in the middle of the summer season.
“It makes the joint efforts of all parties concerned even more difficult to ‘lock’ the numbers of increased tourist arrivals recorded this year in Cyprus and to achieve a shorter recovery time for Cyprus’ economy,” Hermes said in a statement.
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) voiced similar concerns. It urged the parties concerned to exhaust all conciliation efforts to avoid negatively impacting “the most important economic pillar of our country”.
“This year is expected to go down in history of Cyprus tourism as the best ever recorded. It is really tragic, at the height of such a year, for internal problems to be created such as this,” the CTO said.
At issue in the ground staff services dispute are allegations by Swissport and LGS workers that collective agreements are not being observed.
SEK union’s Paphos branch representative Petros Demosthenous told the Cyprus Mail that they were forced to take action following a 14-month period of negotiations with the two companies that got nowhere. He added that the employers were demanding that workers be paid normal rate when working on holidays, and unilaterally withheld pay increments.
Demosthenous said that the two companies are demanding reductions in salaries and in provident fund contributions. He also said that one of the two companies signed agreements with part-time staff under which they would not be paid extra for working on holidays, thus violating collective agreements.
Speaking to state broadcaster CyBC, Swissport operations manager Antonis Vassiliades denied that the latest agreement with the employees had been violated.
He added that he found it odd that the workers said negotiations had reached a dead end as the issue is currently before the Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou.
His company, he said, accepted and implemented an interim proposal of Emilianidou, which was also agreed by the employees.
“We have been applying the interim proposal of the minister the last three months, and we are in anticipation of her intervention which might yield a proposal that will be accepted by both sides,” Vassiliades said.
The minister’s proposal, he said, was for the companies to give pay increments and continue negotiations. “We accepted this and we apply it.”
The 24-hour taxi driver strike, which only affected those drivers who are part of the small shopkeeper’s union POVEK, was over parking restrictions at the airport.
Taxis are no longer allowed to park outside arrivals but have been moved further away, making it harder for passengers to reach them.
“We had been where the arrivals come out for 10 years and they decided to put us back here seven months ago. They are forcing disabled, old people and those in wheelchairs to walk in the 40 degree heat all the way down here. Our area is not even properly signposted,” said Nicos Coutis, head of the Union of Urban Taxi Drivers Paphos Airport. “Why are we being treated differently from Larnaca and all the other airports in the world?”
Following the meeting with Hermes, taxi drivers called off their strike after six hours, saying that they would give a ten-day deadline to airport authorities to sort the issue out.
One passenger told the Cyprus Mail that most taxis seemed to running fine but the flight delays were the real issue.
The couple, who were due to leave Paphos flying to London Gatwick just before 3pm, said that they were informed that their flight had been delayed by just over an hour and a half.
“I think we are lucky though as some of the other flights with other airlines to London are showing a four and a half hour delay.”
The holidaymaker, who wished to remain unnamed, said that many of the passengers were angered by the strike and had no sympathy for the action.
“This is a very bad time to strike, right in the middle of the tourist season and in my mind shows that these people don’t care about the passengers at all,” said.
“This is not the way we would want to finish our holiday.”