The agreement between unions of the two sides to arrange the employment of Turkish Cypriots in the Republic, which is faced by acute labour shortages was a commendable initiative. The agreement between Sek and Turk-Sen unions was announced on Wednesday by the president of the latter, Arslan Biciakli, who said the deal would enable some 8,000 Turkish Cypriots to find employment.
This seems a sensible arrangement considering the labour shortages experienced in the hotel sector, retail and manufacturing. Employing Turkish Cypriots is an easy and quick fix to the problem as there is no need for the time-consuming applications to the labour office that are required for third-country nationals. EU nationals who were employed in these sectors are reluctant to return because of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
On Thursday Kibris Postasi reported there was a queue outside the offices of Turk-Sen and that by lunchtime 120 applications had been submitted. The only requirement is for applicants to be under the age of 50 and have a Cyprus Republic ID or passport. Biciakli, who said there were doctors and civil engineers among the applicants, tried to give a political dimension to the agreement that was unnecessary.
“Those that push people into this situation should be ashamed,” he said, taking a swipe at the authorities in the north which has suffered the devastating effects of the collapse of the Turkish lira. Living standards have fallen and businesses badly hit by the freefall of the lira. The head of Turk-Sen also tried to pre-empt the criticism he expected from Turkish Cypriot nationalists, saying: “No-one should try to play the hero or give us a lesson in nationalism. If nationalism is to bribe, to steal, to go hungry, to hide behind a flag, I am no nationalist.”
The nationalist factor is certain to play a role on both sides of the dividing line. While the nationalists in the north will be disparaging Turkish Cypriots for seeking employment in the south, those of the south will accuse Greek Cypriot businesses of helping the economy of the pseudo-state. There are already Turkish Cypriots employed in the Republic – Peo union has been arranging work for some time – but there has been no employment agreement on such a big scale before, which is why a political reaction is possible.
The two unions should be prepared to defend this agreement as it is mutually beneficial economically and helps build confidence between the two sides, which has been an objective of President Anastasiades. They must not allow the nationalists of the two sides to bully them into abandoning it.