Divisions have appeared in the government over Labour Minister Kyriakos Koushos’ handling of the threatened strike by EAC as he had reportedly failed to stick to what had been agreed with other members of the cabinet.
A senior government source said Koushos made a mockery of his ministerial colleagues, hanging them out to dry, by completely ignoring the way it was decided to deal with the strike threat. The main decision was that only Koushos would meet the union representatives.
After hearing from the EAC board that there was a dispute with the unions, ministers had decided that Koushos would “become involved on issues relating to the legality of the strike and on whether there were industrial issues so that the procedures for industrial disputes could be followed,” said the source.
There had been no agreement among ministers for union representatives to have meetings with the ministers of finance and energy about their demands. Yet after Tuesday’s emergency meeting with the leaders of the EAC unions, Koushos announced that talks would be arranged with the ministers of the energy and finance to discuss the workers’ demands.
EAC unions had threatened not to work on six units at the Dhekelia power station from Wednesday, and the industrial action would have caused power cuts of between 30 minutes and an hour every evening in the Larnaca, Famagusta and Nicosia districts. This was to push their demand for the upgrading of Dhekelia, the hiring of 370 workers, and the development of renewable energy sources.
Energy Minister Natasa Pilides, had described these demands as political as they were geared at dictating the policy of the EAC. This was why Koushos, as labour minister, was asked to deal exclusively with the industrial relations issues, if any existed.
Instead, he did exactly the opposite of what had been agreed. In Tuesday’s meeting he persuaded the union leaders to call off the strike measures by telling them he would arrange meetings with the ministers of finance to and energy. The senior government source suggested that neither have been consulted beforehand
In comments to Cyprus News Agency on Wednesday, Koushos tried to justify his decision, by indirectly criticising his colleagues for refusing to negotiate with the unions.
“What I know is that when a course that leads to deadlock is followed and there are strike measures and refusal, as a matter of principle, by the government to engage in discussions, we cannot resolve problems.”
This was confirmation that there was a ministerial decision not to enter talks with unions, but Koushos arranged talks regardless. It also went against the decision by the council of ministers not to accept any demands after November 1.
Even though he had gone behind the backs of his colleagues, to reach a deal with the EAC unions, the labour minister was praised by parties, media and unions for averting the strike.
Koushos will now have the job of arranging the meetings of the union representatives with Finance Minister Constantinos Petrides and Energy Minister Natasa Pilides, with whom he had yet to talk. He hoped to discuss the matter with them on Thursday.
“My commitment is to arrange meetings in the coming week, as early as possible,” said Koushos.