After the minimum wage and CoLA, the unions have found another issue over which to clash with labour minister Kyriakos Koushos – the strategy for the employment of people from third countries. They have made it clear they disagree with the premise of the strategy and that it was drafted without any consultation with the unions. They claim the minister had only discussed the strategy with employers organisations and that he went out of his way to satisfy them.
The bosses of the three main union federation have written to the minister, listing their objections, all of them protesting the lack of consultation, claiming the strategy was one-sided, cut to the measure of employers, while two of them threatened action, if their concerns were not addressed. There are objections about the percentage of the workforce of a business that would be from third countries and demands that foreign workers are covered by the collective agreements. While the ministry is looking at 50 per cent, unions believe the percentage should not exceed 30 per cent.
The most important objection relates to the collective agreements which are the source of union power. If half the workforce of a business is not covered by a collective agreement, the negotiating power of the union would be weakened. Unions also believe that individual contracts would encourage businesses to employ third country nationals on lower wages even when there were locals available.
In her letter to Koushos, the Peo chief, Sotiroulla Charalambous, said what was being attempted was “the broadening of the ability of employers to use cheap foreign labour, something that increases deregulation and further restricts the scope of collective work agreements.” This is a valid argument also highlighted by the Sek chief, Andreas Matsas, who said the absence of collective agreements created conditions for exploitation of workers.
Then again, should businesses not be entitled to employ workers on individual contracts? It is perfectly legal for a business to offer individual contracts, although in the case of workers from third countries this could lead to paying a low wage. It is for the government to provide some safeguards, but forcing everyone into collective agreements is not the only way to do it.
Another criticism of the unions was Koushos’ hurry to get the strategy through the council of ministers before the change of government. They have said that the matter should be left to the next government which is an absurd suggestion given the urgency of the matter. Hospitality enterprises are short-staffed and desperate to hire workers before the tourist season kicks off. They cannot wait for the new government to take over in March and for the new labour minister to get up to speed. And if he or she makes the mistake of entering a dialogue with unions, it would be June before any agreement is reached and July before hotels can hire workers.
Koushos had no choice but to go ahead with the new strategy, without time-consuming dialogue and consultations with the unions that would use delaying tactics to strengthen their negotiating position. The minister has done the right thing because the hospitality sector cannot be made to wait any longer.