Anexartisias street in Limassol effectively shut down on Thursday after swarms of people went to strike outside the district office demanding the return of their cost-of-living allowance (CoLa).
Union workers including teachers, nurses, academics, builders, and cleaners were in the bustling street in the hundreds, with vehicles unable to pass through.
“We will not stop here. This is only the beginning,” Stelios Savva, head of teachers union Oelmek Limassol’s office said, as protesters chanted in the background “hands off CoLa!”.
The strike was held across the country between 12-3pm, with Cyprus effectively going into standstill, and dozens of flights cancelled. Peo district secretary Maria Singeri called it a “historic day for workers in Cyprus.”
In a bitter twist of irony, after the unions ended their speeches at around 1.45pm, protestors went into shops on Anexartisias streets and sat down in café’s, served by people who were evidently unable to strike, or those who would not reap any benefits linked to the CoLa demands.
Giorgos Odysseos, deputy general secretary for Sek union’s Limassol district recognised that those people who didn’t strike were probably not on the receiving end of CoLa perks that go hand-in-hand with collective agreements struck by unions.
“This protest goes for them too, though. Today they might be working in a store but tomorrow they might go to work in a company where they’ll receive CoLa. We’re fighting for everyone, not just us.”
Currently, the rate of CoLa is at 8.76 per cent, Odysseos said and with such a high cost of liv
ing, “we can’t back down. This is obviously a huge cost for employers too, I recognise this, but employees are paying this as well.”
In light of an almost 9 per cent hike in wage adjustments employers would be required to have, unions are suggesting a gradual restoration of CoLa payments over the next three years. Currently, employees who receive CoLa get 50 per cent of the rate – a result of an amendment instilled by Troika during the 2013 financial crisis.
Though unions want it to be restored to 100 per cent, they suggest it go up in increments over the next three years, for instance go up to 65 per cent now, and higher up in the next year.
“With the situation we’re at now amid such expensive prices, we won’t back down. Prices are going up and businesses are passing the costs to consumers.” Nonetheless, Odysseos admits that many firms are absorbing some of the costs in a bid to keep competition afloat and points back to the union suggestion of an incremental increase.
“I don’t remember CoLa ever being this high. Of course, the war in Ukraine played a huge role. It affected transport, costs and this is why this has happened.”
Giangos Giangou, a hotel employee attending the protest lamented that with inflationary pressures driving prices up and increased cost of living, compounded with a stationary CoLa distribution at 50 per cent, wages are effectively going down.
“All we have left is to protest. We can’t tolerate this anymore.”
Even though not everyone gets CoLa, it should be set in stone for everyone, he added.
“We want the obvious for everyone. For the builder and the teacher. The doctor and the cleaner. The fact that not everyone has CoLa is not an excuse. We want to expand this to everyone,” Singeri said, amid a backdrop of loud applause.