About three out of four workers are estimated to participate in a nationwide strike next week to demand the full restoration of cost-of-living allowance (CoLA), Peo trade union secretary said on Wednesday.
Public and private employees will hold a three-hour work stoppage next Thursday after discussions with employers’ organisations and Labour Minister Kyriacos Koushos over CoLA ended in an impasse.
“We don’t want to strike, we don’t want to inconvenience the public nor for workers to lose the portion of that day’s salary. But the position of the employers and the government has forced us to,” the general secretary of Peo and Sidikek, representing employees from the private and semi-government sectors, Nikos Gregoriou told the Cyprus Mail.
His statements echoed the federation of trade union organisations who said that the responsibility of what will follow is “entirely borne by the employers and the government”.
Workers are demanding the gradual full restoration of CoLA while employers said they want to continue to pay 50 per cent of CoLA as had been the practice in the past five years.
As a first step to exert pressure on the state to satisfy their demand, Peo, Sek and Deok unions will strike from 12 noon to 3pm, as well as all the unions of health professionals and teachers.
“All the public and semi-public sector will strike. Everything will close,” Gregoriou said, clarifying that essential services such as hospitals and the electricity authority will operate with skeleton staff.
About 40 per cent of private employees who are included in collective agreements and are paid CoLA will also participate. These includes workers in hotels, construction and the trade sector, Gregoriou said.
Police and the fire service are excluded from the strike.
“We have called on everyone to participate in solidarity, regardless of whether they are paid CoLA,” the union secretary said, estimating that three out of four of all employees will attend the strike.
He reiterated how it is not the aim of the unions to strike and expressed hope that even at the last minute, the government will take action to prevent the work-stoppage.
“We hope that the president or the labour minister will contact us proposing the gradual 100 per cent restoration of CoLA before Thursday so we can cancel the strike.”
Otherwise, the warning measure will escalate, Gregoriou said, “possibly with a full day strike followed by an indefinite strike”.
The cost-of-living allowance, implemented since 1944, was suspended after the 2013 crisis and partially reinstated in 2018. Trade unions and employers’ organisations had entered discussions following the expiration of a deal struck in July 2017 that provided for employers to pay 50 per cent of CoLA.
Employers said they were prepared to pay 50 per cent of CoLA but unions are now demanding 100 per cent to cover the cost-of-living crisis. They said this will only add 1 per cent to the cost of products but will allow workers to maintain a decent standard of living.
CoLa is not an increase in employees wages but compensation for the wage decrease that has already taken place which will lead to a reduction in demand for products and in the long term a reduction in production and closure of businesses, the federation of trade unions said.
For the state, the full restoration of CoLA would mean €150 million would be added to the public sector payroll, something that had not been accounted for in the 2023 state budget which had been submitted to the legislature.
But Gregoriou said that since the payment will be gradual this can be done through the approval of supplementary budgets.
He explained that even the current government can intervene to resolve the dispute, while if this does not happen, it should be the priority for the new government that will be formed after the presidential elections on February 5.
After the latest CoLA meeting on Tuesday, Interior Minister Nicos Nouris said he will continue efforts to reach a consensual agreement, but implied that his successor might have to continue the consultations for a solution.
Saying there are “limited possibilities” due to the gap between the two sides, Nouris had said: “I am sure that the new labour minister will continue the efforts to find a mutually acceptable solution.”