Leaders of the business community on Monday conveyed their concerns to the government over a possible bottleneck in economic growth due to a lack of skilled workers, while reiterating their longstanding proposal that strikes in essential services be regulated by law.
Representatives of the Employers and Industrialists Federation (OEB) and the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Keve) held a meeting at the presidential palace with President Nicos Anastasiades, as well as Finance Minister Harris Georgiades and Energy and Commerce Minister Giorgos Lakkotrypis.
Regulating strikes in essential services via legislation was one of the issues discussed, following recent threats of industrial action by workers at the state-run power corporation.
The government, however, appeared to balk at introducing legislation.
Government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou later told reporters that, at the president’s Friday meeting with trade unions, a ‘common understanding’ was reached that the matter of industrial action in essential services – like electricity – is best left handled within the auspices of a gentlemen’s agreement struck back in 2004.
The 2004 agreement was introduced as an alternative to a law governing strikes at essential services, at the behest of the unions, which opposed any legislation.
It has not proved very effective, as it has been ignored by workers at the ports, the Electricity Authority of Cyprus (EAC) and hospitals over the years.
Rather, the government has opted to dangle such legislation as a threat, a bargaining chip against syndicates whenever they look likely to disrupt essential sectors.
“The president’s position is that he would like to see this agreement function,” Prodromou offered.
For his part, Keve director Christodoulos Angastiniotis said it was high time that a law was passed to regulate strikes in essential services.
“No one should be allowed to hold the entire economy hostage, be they port workers, the Electricity Authority or anyone else,” he noted.
Last Friday unions representing employees at the EAC were convinced to hold off on strike action for a week.
The syndicates are set to meet with the EAC board on Tuesday to discuss their grievances.
Meantime at the same meeting with the president on Monday, OEB and Keve also sounded the alarm over a lack of workers in the private sector.
This was especially apparent in the tourism industry.
OEB chairman Giorgos Petrou warned of the danger that economic activity, which has been ticking up over the last years, may come to a screeching halt unless immediate steps are taken.
He said that of the 24,500 recipients overall of Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI), an estimated 3,500 are able to work but do not. These people could be trained to join sectors that are currently facing manpower shortages.
Responding to a journalist’s question on this, the government spokesman dismissed the notion that current GMI beneficiaries might be ‘victimised’ should they be deemed layabouts.
He said the GMI system has safeguards in place to ensure that people who do need assistance, will get it.
The employers also raised the matter of the recent decision by the administrative court, which declared invalid benefits and salary cuts implemented in the broader public sector in 2012.
The ruling also meant that the affected individuals were entitled to immediate compensation for what they lost since 2012.
The state is appealing that court decision, and wants to freeze the payment of any such compensation until a final judgement is delivered by the supreme court.
OEB and Keve indicated to the president their concerns over double standards, in that whereas civil servants are poised to have their salary cuts reimbursed, the same does not hold true for the private sector which likewise took a blow from the economic meltdown.