An open letter outlining a range of measures for the government to implement, sent on Wednesday by the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Keve), has sparked a fierce reaction by labour and trade unions.
In the letter, undersigned by Keve president Christodoulos Angastiniotis, the chamber suggested that the introduction of the minimum wage be suspended, while also asking for the cost of living allowance to not be raised in 2022, saying that this would further fuel inflation.
This is not the first time that business leaders, whether through Keve or the Employers and Industrialists Federation (Oev), have expressed their disapproval of the introduction of the minimum wage.
In October of the previous year, Angastiniotis accused labour unions of making demands that are both unrealistic and unfeasible for businesses.
“Unions must realise the severity of the situation and stop making demands that are not aligned with reality,” Angastiniotis said at the time.
In March of this year, Oev general director Michalis Antoniou said that Cypriot employers are asking for the postponement of discussions around the implementation of the minimum wage until the economy is stabilised.
Antoniou explained that due to the volatile situation caused by the war in Ukraine, as well as soaring costs, any discussion on the legislative regulation of the minimum wage at this time would not be reasonable.
“The timing is not right for the implementation of the minimum wage, as we have much more serious turmoil to deal with, with two concurrent crises, one being the pandemic and the other being the Russian-Ukrainian crisis,” Antoniou said in an interview.
In response to Keve’s open letter, trade union Sek later on Wednesday stated that it “rejects Keve’s position of suspending the introduction of the minimum wage”, calling on Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou to proceed with its implementation.
“The road to the implementation of the national minimum wage is one-way and without return,” the union said.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Labour Federation of Cyprus (Deok) echoed the same thoughts as its Sek counterpart, saying that the current sociopolitical situation is no excuse to suspend the measure from being implemented.
“The last ten years have seen an unprecedented deconstruction and deregulation of the labour rights, with Cyprus’ working class being the one having to borne the burden of the 2013 financial crisis,” Deok said on Thursday.
“It has paid and is paying the cost of the pandemic, with the income in the private sector remaining stagnant since 2014,” the union added.
In addition, Deok said that it will not allow employers to use the inflation crisis as a vehicle to suspend or even cancel the introduction of the minimum wage.
“The union has a strong belief that the minimum wage can not be lower than 60 per cent of the median wage and should be implemented immediately,” Deok said.
“We call on the President and the Labour Minister to rise to the expectations of both society and the workers,” it concluded.
On Thursday, labour union Peo also released a statement on the matter, saying that Keve’s letter “reaffirms its policy for cheap, unpaid and unprotected work”.
The union added that “employers’ organisations are aiming to put the burden of this crisis on the shoulders of the weak”.
Moreover, Peo stated that business incomes increased by 41 per cent since 2011 while labour incomes only rose by 6 per cent during the same period of time.
“Now it is time to take measures to support wages and combat cheap labour,” Peo said.
“Therefore, it is now necessary to introduce a minimum wage which meets the cost of living and the needs of employees,” the union added.
The quarrel between businesses and labour unions will no doubt pose a problem for Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou, who in April presented the minimum wage draft bill to parliament.
“The decision to regulate a minimum national wage is definitive, and is expected to be announced soon,” Emilianidou said at the time.
“We believe it will be a major reform which, I have to say, is also a commitment made by President Nicos Anastasiades,” the minister added.
Cyprus is one of the few EU member states without a minimum national wage, although certain professions are covered.