For most working people the measures imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus have turned their lives upside down. Many are without work because the businesses employing them were forced to close, relying on receiving 60 per cent of their wage from the state to get by and not knowing whether they will have a job to return to when this crisis is over and a subsequent economic recession sets in. These are people with many financial obligations facing an uncertain future.
Compare these 200,000 plus workers that will have a part of their March wages paid by the state with the privileged members of the labour aristocracy of the broader public sector, for whom such stress and uncertainty about their future and that of their family is completely unknown. Astonishingly, public employees have used the government measures to their personal advantage, staying away from work while on full pay as their alleged commitment to social distancing. They have shown utter contempt for the idea of working from home, seeing the social distancing as an excuse for an extended holiday.
As soon as the measures were announced the overwhelming majority of public employees stayed at home claiming they belonged to vulnerable groups, they had underage children to look after, they were taking care of parents belonging to vulnerable groups etc. And when the government demanded that workers of the labour and health ministries all had to go to work, the former to deal with the schemes for supporting businesses and workers and the latter because there was a health crisis, Pasydy protested because this “puts at grave risk the health of citizens”. It was only referring to its pampered members, oblivious to all other citizens that were still going to work, including its comrades at the public hospitals who were putting their lives at risk every day to treat their fellow human beings.
Nobody stood up to Pasydy, with the result that 90 per cent of staff at state services and departments stayed at home and those who actually went to work were unable or unwilling to serve the public or businesses. A business seeking certificates from the Registrar of Companies, for instance, is told that it cannot be issued because there is no staff. Ironically, this is a state service that spent millions of euros on digitalisation to make procedures speedier, but still cannot provide the most basic service to people because most of its staff has decided to stay home and not work. Neither the registrar nor his staff care that businesses are still operating and require a prompt service in a country that is an international business and services centre.
What should the service providers tell their foreign clients? ‘Sorry we cannot provide the service you require because Pasydy has decided public employees should not go to work’? It is no different at the courts, which are now declining to issue affidavits – a process that takes less than a minute – because of staff shortages. Why have the courts not taken this opportunity to modernise procedures using digitalisation, instead of maintaining their antiquated, slow procedures? Will service providers such as auditors, lawyers, consultants have to tell foreign clients, a source of revenue for the country in these difficult times, Cyprus has shut down because indolent public employees are using the coronavirus as an excuse not to work and digitalisation has yet not arrived in the state sector?
It is a scandalous state of affairs, highlighting the crude sense of entitlement of public employees who care for nothing, not even their fellow citizens, in a time of national crisis other than their personal well-being and privileged, comfortable existence. When 10 days ago, the employers’ federation OEV proposed a 10 per cent horizontal pay cut in the public sector – a perfectly reasonable proposal considering the state did not have unlimited funds with which to protect employment – Pasydy issued a statement dismissing this as “provocative and unacceptable” and disingenuously accusing OEV of “beating the drums of division”.
It is Pasydy that is beating the drums of division by insisting that its members are treated differently from all other workers – receiving full pay while staying at home and not working. All private sector workers that have stayed at home and are not working will receive 60% of their wage from the state. Only public employees are staying at home not working while on full pay and thus also preventing businesses that require the services of government departments from smoothly carrying on their operations. This is what constitutes a division of the country, a division of the working population into the privileged public employees, untouched by the national crisis, and the rest of us.
The government may be reluctant to take on Pasydy but it should enact OEV’s proposal, especially as it will need to find additional funds to protect employment in the productive sector of the economy before long. The labour aristocracy must also make a contribution to the fight to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while keeping the economy afloat.