FINANCE Minister Harris Georgiades, understandably, is showing signs of concern with regard to the government’s public service reform bills which are pending at the House of Representatives. His concern is shared by the under-secretary to the President Constantinos Petrides, who a few weeks ago stressed the need to pass these bills as they were essential for keeping the public payroll under control. The bills would also allow the government more flexibility in running the public sector and introduce a reliable system for the evaluation of each employee’s performance.
However, the approval of the bill that would bring public sector pay rises and benefits in line with the performance of the economy was of critical importance, as Georgiades keeps reminding everyone. These views were expressed in a newspaper interview on Sunday and again on state radio on Tuesday, because failure to approve the payroll bill before the end of the year would mean that the old profligate system of annual incremental pay rises and wage indexation would be back in force in 2017, pushing the public finances out of control again. The levy on public sector wages and freeze of pay-rises end in 2016.
If we return to the old system in 2017 we would head for disaster once again or, at best, be subjected steep tax hikes in order to cover the increased spending by the state. The passing of the bill is a no-brainer, but unfortunately nobody can rely on the political parties doing the right thing. Nobody knows whether the majority of parties in the legislature would act responsibly or decide that the ‘conquests’ of the workers would have to be protected. Fortunately, the biggest public sector union Pasydy has consented to the government bill and is unlikely to put pressure on the parties. Teaching unions had complained about not participating in the dialogue with the government, but have not yet threatened to close down schools over the bill.
In short, the type of union opposition that would encourage parties to adopt a negative stand does not exist. It could materialise when the legislature re-convenes and then nobody would be able to safely predict the outcome. The fact that the relevant bills had been awaiting approval since before May’s parliamentary elections is not a good sign. This is why it is imperative that Georgiades should carry on speaking in public about the necessity of approving the bills and reminding everyone of the dangers posed by the failure to do so before the end of the year. It may be a thankless task, but he cannot afford to be complacent, knowing how the parties behave.