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Unions give government two-week ultimatum to restore CoLA (Updated)

File Photo: Peo chief Sotiroula Charalambous

By Elias Hazou and Sarah Ktisti

Trade unions on Thursday gave the government and employers a two-week ultimatum to agree to the full reinstatement of the cost of living allowance (CoLA), dangling the threat of industrial action otherwise.

The syndicates issued a joint statement after a gathering in Nicosia. Taking part were the unions SEK, PEO, Deok, Pasydy, Oelmek, Oltek and Poed.

They announced that on January 5 they will hold a pan-union congress to evaluate the situation by then, followed by another congress on January 11 that would “take across-the-board measures if necessary.”

The unions called on “all involved parties (the government and employers organisations) to respect the content of the agreement” – alluding to the 2017 interim deal struck that reinstated CoLA but only partially.

Partial payment of CoLA resumed in January 2018, after having been frozen since July 2011. Under an agreement between the finance ministry and stakeholders, since then CoLA is paid once a year (in January) provided that the second and third quarters of the prior fiscal year register GDP growth.

Under the current arrangement, the CoLA rate is limited to half the annual rise in the Consumer Price Index. The index-linked allowance is paid once a year, in January.

The interim agreement of 2017 expires at the end of this year. Trade unions want a new deal raising CoLA to 100 per cent of the CPI. Employers want the allowance scrapped altogether.

Unions have put their foot down, telegraphing they’ll accept nothing less than a new arrangement guaranteeing the full reinstatement of CoLA, if not immediately then at least gradually over a period of time.

Earlier in the day, unions SEK and PEO called on the government to submit a proposal for the gradual restoration of CoLA.

Speaking on Cybc’s Trito radio channel, SEK general secretary Andreas Matsas pointed out that “the demagoguery on the part of employers, which tried to operate on the basis of revisionism, is being shot down.”

For her part, the general-secretary of PEO Sotiroula Charalambous, stated that if there was no new agreement with the government, the unions would react forcefully, collectively and in an orderly manner.

She stressed that the resolution of labour issues cannot wait for the upcoming elections – a message to the government not to try and kick the can down the road.

Charalambous also noted that CoLA was part of collective agreements and does not only concern public sector workers.

Government spokesman Marios Pelekanos meanwhile said opposition Akel forgets that it was its own administration that in 2012 abolished the acquired rights of workers.

“It is with great patience that we watch the path of populism and nihilism followed by Akel. They promote and claim the complete reinstatement of the CoLA institution, forgetting that it is their own government that in 2012 abolished the acquired rights of workers,” he said in a statement in response to comments made by Akel earlier.

Pelekanos added that Akel also ignores the fact that the present government restored CoLA in 2017 after an agreement of the social partners, including Peo, when it was agreed to pay 50 per cent of the index-linked allowance.

He also noted that it was the current administration, through the relevant minister, that has provoked the dialogue to find a consensual solution for the benefit of both the workers and the development path of the country.

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