Doctors and nurses at state hospitals threatened to intensify strike action as they held a two-hour work stoppage on Tuesday demanding the state health services organisation (Okypy) renew their collective agreements.

But Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela reiterated his “firm position that problems should be solved through dialogue and not though strikes”.

Public hospitals operated with security personnel between 8.30 and 10.30am as medical professionals and clerical staff gathered outside facilities holding placards in a warning work-stoppage.

Patients were inconvenienced by the strike which went ahead despite efforts by the health minister to prevent it by calling an emergency meeting on Monday afternoon.

Hadjipantela on Tuesday added that if the two sides are unable to resolve the situation, the health and labour ministries will intervene to find a compromise solution.

“It is not a threat or blackmail,” general secretary of doctors’ union Pasyki Soteris Koumas told CNA, explaining the strike aimed to send a message to Okypy.

As an employer, Okypy must respect what is due to the workers, Koumas said, noting the conclusion of the collective agreement is included in the legislation governing the establishment and operation of the organisation.

The issue concerns renewing the collective agreement for staff hired on individual contracts that were set to expire at the end of December 2022.

The unions said they had given fair warning to Okypy that the matter should have been resolved in November. Okypy had failed to take any action but said they will issue a proposal on the issue on Monday.

The doctor said they will study it “in a reasonable time” and take a position. But in case there is no progress soon, the unions said they are ready to take more dynamic measures.

Although the matter does not involve all workers at state hospitals, unions decided to stand in solidarity by taking part in the strike, with those downing tools belonging to Sek, Peo, Deok, Pasyki, Pasydy and Pasyno unions.

General secretary of Pasyno Panayiotis Georgiou said they aimed to demonstrate the problem to their employer and expressed hope that common ground will soon be found.

We want the new staff to be included in the collective agreements and not individual contracts, Georgiou said from Paphos general hospital. The collective agreements should also include holidays and sick days, he added.

Georgiou explained that there are “great distances” on how the unions and Okypy interpret basic principles of the agreement.

He added that it is the right of workers to strike.

The unions argue that Okypy is the only semi-government organisation in Cyprus without a collective agreement for a large number of workers, “who remain without rights, experiencing labour uncertainty and insecurity.”

During the protest at Larnaca general hospital workers held placards with slogans against “individual labour contracts” and in support of a collective agreement.

Pasyno representative Theodoros Trapalis said that workers were at a stage of consultation, however the “irresponsible attitude of Okypy” led them to protest.

“We estimate that some meetings will take place, however in case there is no positive outcome we may possibly escalate the measures,” Trapalis said.

Echoing his statement, Sek and Peo representatives said only if Okypy’s proposal satisfies their demands will they be able to find solutions.

Speaking on behalf of Pasydy, Andronikos Andronikou said the state health services organisation is “incapable” of managing the hospitals.

“Hospitals are essential services and we will not let any patient be put at risk,” Andronikou said, adding that they had skeleton staff in all departments. The most crucial departments, namely ICU and dialysis, operated normally, he added.