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Our View: Tragic death has highlighted the arrogance of unions

Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris

IF ANY additional proof were needed of the public sector union rule operating in Cyprus, it was provided in the last 10 days by the government doctors’, the primary teachers’ and the nurses’ unions ranting and raving against ministers, the police and justice system. It was as if these unions were made up of saintly members whose actions could never be questioned or criticised, let alone investigated and prosecuted.

This was the main message of all these unions after the investigations ordered in connection with death of a 10-year-old boy in a Larnaca district primary school. The authorities may have acted in a heavy-handed way, arresting two doctors and marching them to court handcuffed before an investigation into what had happened at the Larnaca hospital A&E department had even been completed. This, however, did not justify the angry reaction and two-hour work stoppage at public hospitals last week. Doctors are not untouchable, as their union Pasyki implied.

Meanwhile, the primary teachers’ union Poed, announced on Saturday it would cut all communication with Education Minister Costas Hambiaouris as punishment for offensive and disparaging comments he made about teachers. While the minister may have used undiplomatic language about teachers, should he have been punished for it? Was it not enough for Poed to respond with arguments rather than by cutting all contact? Whatever happened to the principle of free speech? Perhaps unions do not permit it when it takes the form of critical comments against them.

Then we had the nurses issuing a 16-page open letter to Hambiaouris for allegedly disparaging comments he made about their profession. In response to calls for the appointment of school nurses, he had expressed doubts about the ability of a nurse to judge whether an injury sustained by a school child merited hospital treatment. The nursing union was outraged the minister had questioned their qualifications, while refusing to acknowledge the idiocy of having a nurse at every public school in a country where there is a permanent shortage of nurses.

Unions are not accustomed to being publicly criticised by government ministers – health minister Costas Ioannou was also involved in public spat with Pasyki last week – most of whom avoid antagonising them or engaging in public confrontation with them. Perhaps this was the reason for the knee-jerk reactions by the unions that seem to believe they should be above criticism, especially by members of the government. It is good for them to learn that they are not, even if Hambiaouris overstepped the mark on Friday, revealing that there were teachers with psychological problems. This was more his problem than Poed’s because it is the education ministry’s responsibility to have them removed from public schools.

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