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Our View: Government cannot make a private company act like the public service

Ground services at Paphos airport during their work stoppage

It was certain there would be a strong reaction by unions after 156 workers employed by two ground staff companies at Larnaca airport were handed redundancy notices. An impromptu two-hour strike was staged on Tuesday morning by the workers, although inconvenience to passengers was reportedly kept to a minimum.

The strike decision seemed unnecessary considering union bosses were scheduled to attend a meeting with the transport minister, labour ministry officials and other interested parties on Wednesday. Then again, it would appear the unions no longer have much trust in Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos, who gave assurances a few weeks ago that the workers of companies that lost their service contracts at the airport would be hired by the new contractor.

Things would appear not have gone according to the minister’s plan and on Tuesday the transport ministry issued a statement saying that ground service companies at the airport “are obliged to respect, adopt and comply with the collective agreements, including the previous agreements between the government and the unions as regards the workers.” It cited the council of ministers’ decree and the regulations governing the “licensing and operation of ground service companies at the airports,” which said “priority for employment is given to possible redundant staff of existing companies because of reduced turnover.”

It is not clear whether the ministry was pandering to the unions or was censuring the new contractor for failing to employ workers made redundant by the old contractor. It is entirely possible that the new contractor has ignored the regulations or is using workers that were already on its books. What would be the government’s response if the new contractor argued that it already employed an adequate number of workers and did not need to hire any of the employees made redundant? In such a case the contractor would not be violating any of the regulations.

Such confusion is inevitable when the government imposes regulations that place restrictions on the workings of a free market to appease unions. Why, for instance, should any contractor be obliged to hire the staff of the previous contractor? By what economic reasoning can the state tell a company which workers it should hire? These workers might not be suitable for the company’s operational needs and affect service, efficiency and economic performance.

It is a shame that ground staff of two airport companies have been made redundant but this is how an economy works. And as much as the government wants to protect jobs, the reality is that it cannot make a private company act like the public service.

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