REPRESENTATIVES of public sector unions met on Friday to discuss the issue of pensions. Although one of the teaching unions, Oelmek, proposed the staging of a march to the finance ministry to protest against the government’s failure to address the issue of public employees’ pensions, the meeting decided against such a move. Instead the union representatives agreed to call for talks, while stating they would not accept unilateral decisions by the government.
Why had the union bosses decided against a march? We suspect they do not want to draw any attention to their demands because they fear there would be an angry public reaction, strengthening the government’s position. It was no coincidence that Pasydy boss, Glafcos Hadjipetrou, avoided saying clearly what the unions actually wanted when asked after the meeting. Pasydy wanted the creation of a new pension scheme, “with the parameters implemented by many countries”, he said, without explaining what these parameters were.
All he was prepared to reveal was that they were happy to discuss a new scheme, which would be a combination of pension and retirement bonus like the old scheme, but with some differences. The union would not accept the government proposal for a ‘provident fund’ for public employees, he said, but again failed to explain why. Was this because the public employees would have to contribute to the fund as all workers in the private sector do? Or was it because, under a provident fund, on retirement they would have to choose between a monthly pension or a one-off payment?
Hadjipetrou and his comrades know that if they openly said what they were demanding – in effect they want the privileged treatment they enjoy to continue – public employees would come under attack with ample justification. Therefore, they have decided against holding a demonstration and being specific about their demands, offering instead to enter dialogue with the government about an allegedly new pension scheme that will guarantee them the pension privileges of the old scheme. They calculated that as long as their demands are kept out of the public domain they can bully the government into accepting them.
We hope the government does not fall for this. It should enter dialogue, but at the same time ensure that ordinary people are kept informed of the public employees’ demands for pension privileges that would set them apart from the rest of the working population that would also be forced to pick up the bill. This is why the government should stick to its offer of a provident fund, backing this up with the compelling argument that it refuses to grant special treatment and privileges to any section of the workforce.