Parents’ associations of the Paphos Technical School and the Emba Lyceum have instructed students to boycott their first two classes on Thursday to protest against the continual disruption caused by bus drivers striking over unpaid wages. The drivers of the Paphos bus company Osypa were on strike again on Wednesday because they had not been paid their December wages causing transport problems for some 5,000 students and 3,500 other residents.
The action initiated by the exasperated parents was absurd as it will achieve nothing apart from promoting a union mentality among children and condoning the breaking of school rules. Parents, even more than teachers, should be telling their children that no reason justifies boycotting classes, instead of encouraging them to do so. The parents’ frustration over the bus strikes, which have become a frequent occurrence, is perfectly understandable even if their choice of action is misguided and futile. It is highly unlikely the drivers would call off the strike because kids will miss a couple of classes. In December they were on strike for five days because their November wages had not been paid.
Bus strikes over non-payment of wages has become a persistent problem. On Monday, the first day of the new school term, the drivers of the Larnaca bus company, Zenon, refused to work because they had not been paid since October. Zenon claimed it did not have the money to pay the drivers, who were not employees but associates, and was demanding funds from the transport ministry. Osypa in Paphos is also blaming the transport ministry for not transferring funds for the drivers’ wages.
The transport ministry is perennially in dispute with bus companies over payments, claiming the companies were overcharging it and the payments they regularly demanded could not be justified by the contract the two sides signed. The companies put pressure on the government by not paying their drivers’ wages knowing very well the drivers will strike and the government will cough up the cash. In December there were protests and strikes because the companies announced they had no money to pay the drivers 13th salaries so the ministry, not wanting to be seen leaving workers unpaid at Christmas, provided the money.
It has become a ridiculous game. The drivers also know that parents will apply pressure on the government if the school buses are immobilised. In Larnaca on Monday, by lunch-time the drivers had called off their strike because there was a meeting with permanent secretary at the transport ministry who promised a solution to the problem. The government cannot handle parents protesting that schoolchildren are being victimised and nobody seems to care.
The transport ministry needs to find a permanent solution, because the monthly strikes are unacceptable and have turned the bus service into a farce.