Only in Cyprus could there have been a general work stoppage to push the demand for the most privileged, best paid workers of our society to receive a hefty pay rise on the pretext of maintaining the purchasing power of wages. Even the time of Thursday’s three-hour work stoppage – 12 noon to 3pm – was designed to suit the labour aristocracy of the public sector and semi-governmental organisations. As they finish at 3pm they were be able to get off work at noon without having to return, in contrast to private sector workers who finish much later and had to go back to their jobs.
Although public and private sector unions took a unanimous decision to strike, it is abundantly clear who stood to gain the most from satisfaction of the demand for the full restoration of the Cost of Living Allowance. All workers of the broader public sector are entitled to CoLA whereas in the private sector it is less than 30 per cent of the workers. Considering that a significant proportion of the latter are on the minimum wage, and the average wage of the private sector is markedly lower than that of the public sector, we would in effect have worst-off workers striking so that the best-off workers receive a substantial pay rise.
CoLA, for this year, is 8.71 per cent, but as those entitled will receive 50 per cent, as per the 2017 agreement currently in force, the pay increase would amount to 4.36 per cent. Unions are striking because they demand the full percentage is added to 2023 wages. Someone on the minimum wage (€940 per month), entitled to CoLA, would receive about €41 pay rise and €82 if CoLA was fully restored. A public employee on, for example €3,000 per month, would receive €130, and €260 if fully restored. Meanwhile a little over 70 per cent of workers in the private sector, who are not covered by CoLA, will receive nothing.
And to add insult to injury, the full restoration of CoLA in the public sector, has been estimated by the ministry of finance to cost the taxpayer an additional €150 million in 2023, which has not been budgeted. It would take the state payroll for 2023 to €3.34 billion, a 10 per cent increase on last year. The €150 million would be better used supporting families living below or on the poverty line that cannot make ends meet. It is also worth mentioning that in 2023 all public employees will receive pay increments, while pay cuts imposed in 2012 will have ended. In short, even with half of CoLA, wages will increase by about eight per cent for each public sector worker.
We have not even mentioned the harm CoLA causes by putting the economy in a vicious circle of rising prices. And for what? So that the overpaid, unproductive fat cats of the public sector can become even better off at the expense of the taxpayer and the lowest paid workers.