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Transport Ministry chides bus company after strike action (Updated)

Osypa buses in Paphos

Transport Minister Marios Demetriades said on Friday that there can be no solutions through blackmailing strikes and called for patience so that his ministry and Paphos’ bus company Osypa, can sort out the differences that have led to employees being left unpaid for more than a month.
Around 6,000 pupils in Paphos district had to seek alternative ways of getting to school on Friday after Osypa’s 105 buses remained parked as the company’s staff went on strike after failed to come to an understanding with the ministry over deductions from the state subsidy for earlier overpayments.
The strike ended at 2pm after Osypa and the ministry reached an agreement.
This disagreement had led to a lack of liquidity, the company maintained, making it unable to pay salaries on time.
The company insisted that it was the transport ministry’s fault the strike had gone ahead as it has not made any payments to Osypa in the last seven months, while the ministry said that their offer to pay €168,000 on Thursday in a last-ditch effort to avoid the strike had been turned down by the company.
Demetriades said that his ministry was in consultations with Osypa and called for patience until a solution was found, but said there can be no solutions through blackmailing strikes.
“This issue must be properly handled to protect the interests of the state and at the same time for the services to continue to be provided,” Demetriades said.
But the strike became the cause for yet more legal action against outspoken Paphos Mayor, Phedonas Phedonos, this time by the head of the road transport department Soteris Kolettas, after the mayor blamed the state official for the deals he negotiated in 2009 which, he claimed, favoured the public transport companies.
Phedonos also called for the files concerning administrative reports against Kolettas to reopen. In response, Kolettas said in an announcement that Phedonos’ accusations have been thoroughly investigated by the police and the tax department without anything incriminating being found against him. He also said that the mayor’s claims ‘on interference in contracts of public transportation, profiteering, overpayments and huge amounts made available to the system are insubstantial, unrealistic, misleading and far from reality’.
Kolettas said he has instructed his lawyer to sue Phedonos for libel.
Phedonos also called on the transport ministry not to give in to Osypa’s blackmails and rejected claims of the company that it has not received any money from the government.
“Paphos’ company (Osypa), receives several hundreds of thousands of euros from the ticket sales and this is state money that is taken into account. Therefore, the company has enough proceeds and should not go on strike,” Phedonos said.
The mayor said that up until the spring of 2014 public transportation companies did not submit ‘not one invoice but were only receiving money from the state, while they were refusing to issue any invoices’. After 2015, when they were forced to issue invoices, he said, it emerged that overpayments had been made, amounting to millions.
Osypa received €3m in overpayments, he said.
To cover these overpayments, he said, might take months, even years, and the state might not pay a cent until their contract expires in 2020.
Demetriades said that his ministry has proposed to all companies that an independent expert is appointed to help settle this issue.
Osypa would like the government to deduct earlier overpayments as part of the state’s subsidy in the winter time rather than in the summer period when business picks up and increased proceeds allow for this deduction.
Permanent secretary of the transport ministry Alecos Michaelides admitted that state contacts with the public transportation companies are problematic but that they will be in effect until 2020. Among the problems traced in these contracts, he said, is the fuel cost per kilometre, interpretation of reasonable profit, and payment of staff salaries.
Many pupils went to school late on Friday as the strike caused traffic congestion in some areas as parents, other family members or friends were called in to drive the children to their schools.

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