Cyprus Mail
OpinionOur View

Our View: One law for civil servants, another for the rest

Did we, or will we cut the cost of the public sector?

NOBODY really knows whether the supreme court will overturn the decision of the administrative court which ruled last week that the pay cuts imposed on public employees at the end of 2012 were unconstitutional. Nobody knows what the actual cost to the taxpayer will be, though there have been estimates it would be in the region of €200 million starting from this year as the government would have to pay pre-2013 wages instead of gradually lifting the cuts over a four-year period.

What we do know, however, is that we have created a privileged class of employees who believe they are entitled to special treatment by the state, irrespective of the circumstances. What is scandalous is that these privileges, which set public employees apart from the rest of working people, appear to have been enshrined in law and the courts issue decisions upholding these openly discriminatory practices that resemble modern-day feudalism. Weak politicians pandering for votes have created a labour aristocracy for which different laws apply when it comes to work terms and conditions.

In what democratic state can there be one law for public employees and another law for all others? A private business struggling to avoid bankruptcy can cut staff wages, but the state on the verge of bankruptcy cannot because, according to the administrative court’s latest ruling, this was a violation of the constitution regarding the protection of private property. Is there any other justice system in a democratic country that considers public sector wages private property that cannot be lowered even if the alternative is state bankruptcy?

The administrative court issued a similar decision last November regarding the reductions to public employees’ pensions based on the same dubious interpretation. Pensions were deemed private property and it was a violation of article 23 of the constitution for the state to reduce them. Greece had no trouble reducing pensions when the state faced financial meltdown and neither did the UK during the world financial crisis. Why is it only in Cyprus that the law prevents the state from reducing state pensions to this privileged class of workers?

Is it because judges who issue these rulings when there are disputes are also members of the labour aristocracy and are protecting the interests of their class? Judges also demanded special treatment by the state when it wanted to impose pay cuts in the public sector, and it was granted. The supreme court said that this would be a violation of the constitution in the case of judges – based on their own dubious interpretation of the constitution – and offered instead to make voluntary contributions equivalent to the proposed cuts.

Whether all judges did so we do not know, but it was another example of how all public employees have come to consider being treated differently from the rest of the population as their right. We wonder whether the constitution has provisions guaranteeing this special treatment of the labour aristocracy.

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