Are union bosses above the law? This was the impression created after police arrested and charged the general secretary of nursing union Pasyno, Panayiotis Georgiou, on Monday morning at Limassol General Hospital. The police action sparked outrage among union bosses and journalists, whose reaction was totally out of proportion. On Monday there had even been talk of the nurses going on strike to protest against the police treatment of their leader but it was abandoned, probably because some wiser heads realised that this would have made the union look foolish.
Even though the strike threat was not pursued, the implication of the reaction was that union leaders were untouchable and had the right to behave as they chose when defending their member’ interests. It was incredible that the health minister Giorgos Pamborides was so concerned about this trivial incident he visited the police station to get a personal briefing about what had happened. He was already in Limassol for other work, it was reported, but he still found time in his busy schedule to take a personal interest in the matter.
Panyiotou had been apprehended and taken to the Polemidia police station where he was charged for causing a disturbance and swearing at a police-man. He had gone to the hospital to find out about an attack on nurses by a drunken man who had been taken to A&E in the early hours of Monday. By the time the police arrived at the hospital the drunken man had left and gone home. Panayiotou was angered by the fact that there was no police at the ward to protect staff when the incident occurred, although a special constable was on duty, and sought explanations from one of the officers. This was when he was arrested.
It is perfectly possible that police had overreacted in apprehending and charging him, but the fuss that followed was totally unjustified. Panayiotou could have filed a complaint about his treatment by the police and if the case ever went to court he could have pleaded ‘not guilty’. But for his union to protest about the incident – as if union bosses were saints, incapable of causing a disturbance or swearing at policemen – was out of order. Unless the union bosses are above the law.
Common sense prevailed on Tuesday with Pasyno giving the government two weeks to come up with measures for protecting hospital staff faced with violent or aggressive patients. Now this is a perfectly legitimate concern, which the union had a right and duty to raise, but it should stick to such matters instead of attacking the police because officers dared charge a union boss.