Unions and employers are one step closer to agreeing over the cost of living allowance dispute, Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou said on Friday.

In statements to the press after holding separate meetings with the stakeholders, he emerged saying a joint meeting is set to take place early next week, possibly on Tuesday.

“I am positive that until then, we will reach a mutually acceptable agreement that ensures labour peace.”

Asked what it was that made him so confident, Panayiotou said he did not want to delve into the specifics of what was discussed in the meetings. Peo union general secretary Sotiroulla Charalambous did not delve into details either but said there were matters that were causing them to be hesitant.

Nonetheless, she too hinted at optimism saying “we believe there is room for us to move towards finding a solution.”

Similarly, Sek general secretary Andreas Matsas specified that as long as the principles are maintained, enough ground has been covered so as to hope that next week, a mutually agreed decision can be made.

The principles concern the ‘philosophy’ behind CoLA and ensuring its continuation. Summing up the sentiment after the meeting, Deok union leader Iosif Anastasioiu called it a constructive meeting.

Though the initial plan was to have a joint meeting between unions, employer organisations and the minister on Friday morning, it was later decided Panayiotou would meet employers first at 10am and unions at 11.30am.

Panayiotou stressed this is an ongoing process and everyone wanted to have a positive result by the end of it. He had submitted a proposal last week, which unions and employers had time to explore.

The Employers and Industrialists Federation (Oev) is the only group to have backed and accepted the proposal so far. However, speaking to the state broadcaster, its director general Michalis Antoniou said it was not a unanimous decision to support the proposal.

In fact, Thursday’s meeting where Oev members discussed the proposal was intense, and left many people disappointed.

Nonetheless, as things stand, the federation will not accept the proposal to budge by an inch, and will tolerate no compromises over it, Antoniou said. He explained the proposal was not satisfactory, nor what they expected but under the circumstances, decided to support it for the sake of labour peace.

Should the proposal as it stands move forward, this will mean a 1.4 per cent increase in wages that employers will have to cough up, which is bound to cause problems in some quarters, he noted.

Oev does want the minister however to make good on his pledge to find a definitive resolution to the CoLA issue before 2025.

All 13 unions on Thursday turned down Panayiotou’s mediation proposal submitted last week, which proposes renewing the 2017 interim agreement for another three years and increasing CoLA to two-thirds of the Consumer Price Index. This would mean CoLA would go up to a 66.67 per cent share from the current 50 per cent.

Matsas had said that for unions to support the proposal, there must be a clear timeframe in place for when CoLA would be fully restored.

Employers organisations however are divided with the chamber of commerce (Keve) not satisfied with it despite OEV backing the minister’s mediation proposal.

The longstanding position from unions is a demand for the gradual full restoration of CoLA. Meanwhile employers are not interested in paying more CoLA than what they already pay, which has been at 50 per cent for the past five years.

Negotiations have been ongoing for months on end to no avail and culminated in a nationwide strike in January this year, resulting in an effective shutdown for the entire country. Schools, airlines, courts, public transport, hospitals and utility companies all went on a three hour strike.

About 30 per cent of private sector workers are party to collective agreements and eligible to CoLA adjustments.

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.