IT WAS ALMOST a relief to hear the teaching unions announce a 48-hour strike for next week, in their relentless efforts to assert their authority over the government. They can no longer use the threat of industrial action to extract more concessions from the government as the strike was going ahead when President Anastasiades, after being handed another ultimatum, finally said ‘enough is enough’ on Wednesday.
The government and Anastasiades personally have made countless concessions to reach some form of compromise and avert a strike, but the teaching unions would simply ask for more. The final straw was last Thursday, when, after a six-hour meeting between the three-member ministerial committee and the union leaders an agreement was reached and the two sides shook hands. Everything was written down and everyone thought this was the end of the two-month saga that completely dominated public life.
It was not because the secondary teachers union Oelmek wanted credits for the extra 45-minute teaching period they had agreed to do every week; that is they wanted the government to pay it back next school year in some way. This absurd demand, which meant the unions would have made no compromise on anything, was the final straw for Anastasiades who had bent over backwards in order to get a deal, making a complete fool of himself in the process.
Nobody could accuse the president of not exhausting all efforts to avert a strike – if anything he went too far – except the union bosses, but they have been shown up as a bunch of totally untrustworthy and manipulative operators that lied and misinformed. These were the people that submitted the demand for early retirement without penalties in writing and then claimed the government offered this without the unions asking for it. They sat at a meeting at the presidential palace and drafted a compromise document with the president on August 23 and then rejected it claiming it was a government proposal.
Eight days ago, they agreed a deal, shook hands on it and by Monday came up with a new demand submitted as an ultimatum. And they had the nerve to accuse the government of leading the dispute to a “collision”. Then again, they have been twisting the truth for the last two months. They were protecting public schools they claimed, when all they were doing was defending their ‘right’ to do less work than they were employed to do. Union bosses were defending their right to be paid not to teach, as a way of protecting public schools.
The dispute was over a point of principle they misleadingly claimed – no decisions should be taken without dialogue with the unions. There has been dialogue between the government and the unions for the last six weeks and the former has made all the concessions, but there was still no deal, not even after the union leaders co-wrote an agreement and shook hands with the ministers. The government is perfectly justified to end all communication with the union bosses, now and let them strike, because they refuse to work an extra 45 minutes a week.