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Opposition parties have deprived workers of vital support says minister (updated)

Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou

The decision by opposition parties to shelve a bill for state-backed lending to stricken businesses is a hard blow for workers who are deprived of important support, Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou said Wednesday.

The minister called on parties to set politics aside and support government efforts to afford support to small and medium businesses and workers.

Opposition parties said Tuesday there was not enough time to discuss the bill, which was submitted on Thursday, blaming the government for leaving it until the last moment.

Parliament is scheduled to dissolve on April 22 ahead of the May 30 elections.

In a written statement, Emilianidou said the government had adopted more than 10 opposition recommendations during consultations prior to submitting the bill.

“The exception was Diko, which refused to participate in the dialogue,” the minister said.

She urged parties to rethink their stance, abandon “unfounded excuses” and adopt the bill that will assist businesses and protect jobs.

Ruling Disy leader Averof Neophytou embarked on an initiative Wednesday to push the bill through by asking House president Adamos Adamou to add it to the plenum’s agenda on Thursday.

“We consider the issue of state guarantees of the utmost importance and a tool that will afford liquidity to small and medium businesses during this exceptionally difficult period,” Neophytou said in a letter.

The issue will be discussed by party leaders on Thursday.

The bill provides for €1 billion in guarantees and €1.4bn in liquidity to businesses stricken by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state-backed loan scheme has been a bone of contention between the government and opposition parties since last year when it was first introduced.

Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides eventually withdrew it after weeks of discussions, saying opposition party amendments had rendered it unenforceable.

Diko chairman Nicolas Papadopoulos appeared ready to back the scheme but said his party would submit to amendments. One providing that all the assistance would be given to small and medium businesses, and for the auditor-general to monitor the process as an observer.

Papadopoulos’ insistence to involve the auditor was one of the reasons the bill was withdrawn last year.

Main opposition Akel accused the government of leaving the bill late and submitting the bill last Thursday without even tagging it as urgent, compelling the finance committee to discuss it immediately.

“What is worse though, is that the Disy chairman provocatively and without shame blamed parliament for the government’s huge delay,” Akel spokesman Stephanos Stephanou said.

Diko MP Christiana Erotokritou said the matter was just another installment in the political fraud staged by the government.

She said it was the government that withdrew the bill because it did not want transparency and it was the government that let 11 months go by without bringing a proposal to parliament.

It was also the government that submitted the bill 72 hours before the committee’s last session, knowing that the regulation prohibited its discussion, she said.

However, opposition parties might be forced to rethink their stance, as business and employers’ groups censured the move and demanded approval of the bill before dissolution.

The chamber of commerce and industry (Keve) said it appeared that the matter was being shelved once more “endangering the viability of numerous businesses and self-employed people”.

Keve called on the parties that oppose discussion and approval of the bill, to consider the scale of the problem and the risks threatening businesses.

“Unfortunately, it appears that despite widespread recognition of the need to approve the bill in question, electoral expediencies have dominated, and citing clearly procedural matters, parliament has once more failed to grasp reality,” Keve said.

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