A TWO-HOUR work stoppage at hospitals last week was all that was needed for the government to surrender to the unions of hospital workers who were in dispute with state health services, Okypy about collective agreements. On Monday, health minister, Michalis Hadjipantela, said he hoped the proposal for a collective agreement, which Okypy would deliver to him, was a very good one so that the unions would accept it.
Hadjipantela, acting as mediator, was to receive the proposal on Tuesday and hand it over to the unions. Okypy would make a presentation, explaining the changes made to previous proposals. He hoped the changes would be acceptable to the unions so that intensive negotiations on the collective agreements would begin immediately. In short, the health minister, as mediator, instructed Okypy, which is nominally in charge of state hospitals, to give the unions what they wanted so they would not carry out the threat for more industrial action.
The Okypy practice of hiring staff on personal contracts since 2019 had not met with the approval of nursing, medical and other hospital unions, which demanded these workers joined collective agreements. The powerful unions, aware that personal contracts would eventually diminish their power, have decided they must be scrapped and the collective agreements take their place. And the government, terrified of the idea of industrial action at hospitals, has sided with the unions, forcing Okypy to introduce collective agreements for new recruits.
Do unions have the legal authority to declare personal contracts null and void and dictate a different work relationship between employer and employee? In a country with the rule of law this would not have been possible, but in a country like Cyprus, in which union bosses call the shots and politicians obey, it is standard practice. A few days ago, the EAC unions, which were threatening power cuts unless their demands to dictate the authority’s policies were satisfied, met the ministers of labour, energy and finance in the presence of the board to discuss and agree the start of a dialogue. In this case, labour minister Kyriakos Koushos will be the mediator.
What nobody dares explain in the case of public hospitals is that operating costs will increase substantially, by putting all workers on collective agreements, while patient service will remain at the current poor standards. Personal contracts introduced an evaluation of each worker and linked pay increases to performance, a practice that is anathema to unions, which want the laziest and least productive workers to receive the same pay rises as the best employees.
The joke is that, according to government plans, state hospitals are supposed to become self-financing by 2025, not needing hundreds of millions in state support that they are given each year. This is unlikely ever to happen when we have an irresponsible government that allows unions to constantly increase operating costs. It will not be long before the funds being poured into the state hospitals will run out, because a business model dictated by unions is doomed to end in bankruptcy.