The union representing employees of the environment department on Thursday slammed the “unfair” targeting of staff over the fire at a tyre storage area near Vasiliko on Saturday that went on for days spewing a huge cloud of toxic smoke into the air.
The branch of public service union Pasydy also slammed the fact that Cyprus was the only EU member state that did not have an independent environment department at a time when it was the biggest departmental portfolio in other countries.
Their need to go public on the understaffing of their department stemmed from society’s lack of information “about the conditions under which staff are required to work and cope with a disproportionate and ever-increasing workload”, the union said.
The union branch repeated the findings that the fire began from a malfunction in the shredder used by Enerco, which processes the tyres for the Vasiliko cement work.
“Due to the strong winds at the time and the flammable nature of the material, it was not possible to halt the fire in a timely manner,” a statement from the union said.
“We consider, at least, misplaced and unfair that such accidents, which are beyond the exclusive control of the department of environment, for it to have to take the blame and to see colleagues being targeted,” it added.
It said the department was currently staffed with a small number of inspectors, to cover the whole island as far as inspections and controls were concerned.
This includes over 2,000 facilities that fall under the provisions of environmental legislation, over 1,000 waste carriers and producers, 400 livestock units, plus investigating 400 or so complaints a year.
“Colleagues, in the context of carrying out their work and enforcing legislation, often receive insults, provocations, threats to themselves, to their families and properties,” it added. Some of these threats have had to be reported to police.
“For the last almost 20 years, a number of studies have been carried out by the state and by the European Commission on precisely how to staff and operate the department of the environment and in particular regarding controls,” the statement said.
The non-implementation of these proposals so far, “unfortunately”, the union said, has led in a terribly understaffed department in relation to the number and range responsibilities entrusted to it, with all the consequent negative consequences for the protection of the environment.
Although all the studies that were done demonstrated the need for at least 180 new posts, it added, the approval in the 2022 budget is only for 89 posts, of which 40 are pending.
The staff immediately requests proper staffing and the creation of a new directorate for the environment, the union said.
“Cyprus is perhaps the only country out of the 27 member states of the European Union which does not have an autonomous ministry of the environment in the year 2022… not even an undersecretariat although the portfolio of the European environmental acquis is the largest,” the statement said.
At the same time, it added, the responsibilities for the atmospheric control of pollution have for some months now, already been transferred to the department of environment from another ministry.
“The staff of the department of the environment under no circumstances accept to become the scapegoat of all the problems related to the protection of the environment, which arise from systemic structural and institutional issues and outdated deficiencies, the responsibility for resolving which should not be put on the shoulders of the employees at the department,” it concluded.