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Our View: Labour minister may be out of touch with the labour market

Υπουργός Εργασίας – Δηλώσεις για τ
Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou

Businesses have been complaining about labour shortages ever since the end of the pandemic. Tens of thousands of EU workers returned to their countries during the lockdown and have not returned. This could be because there are now jobs in their own countries or they have found employment in other EU states. They may have stayed put or looked elsewhere for employment because the wages being paid in Cyprus are no longer attractive, especially when set against the rising cost of living and soaring rent prices.

The government has put a scheme in place allowing businesses to apply for permission to hire third country nationals. However, employers organisations complain that the procedure needs about seven months to be completed. There is obviously a great deal of paperwork involved and ministries are not renowned for their efficiency in processing applications. These applications have been increasing because the economy has been growing and the demand for workers, particularly in the hotel industry has been steadily rising. Record numbers of arrivals and hotel bookings also created more job vacancies and more applications for foreign workers.

Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou appears oblivious to the problem. After the council of ministers meeting on Wednesday, he declared there were unemployed Cypriot citizens, who should be given priority. He also said that companies have the ability to hire EU citizens, without seeking the labour ministry’s approval, by way of an answer to criticism for the delays in processing applications.

It is not clear what Panayiotou’s agenda was. Was he pandering to the unions, as he regularly does, or is he completely out of touch with what is happening in the economy? Was he seriously suggesting that unemployed Cypriots were willing to work in restaurant kitchens, as menial workers in hotels or in recycling, which are the worst hit by the labour shortage? Has he wondered around to check how many Cypriots are employed on building sites, petrol garages, restaurant kitchens or in jobs that employ unskilled workers?

We would have thought the labour minister would have known that there are many menial jobs that Cypriots refuse to do. This is not a phenomenon specific to Cyprus but is evident in most countries with a relatively high standard of living. Pretending that there are locals available for these jobs and that citizens of other EU countries would come running to Cyprus to do them, is, to say the least, laughable.

Panayiotou would better serve the interests of the economy by looking at the big delays in processing applications for third country nationals by his ministry and finding ways of speeding up procedures. Seven months is far too long for processing applications, especially when businesses are facing big difficulties in finding workers. Someone should inform Panayiotou that businesses must be helped by the labour ministry, instead of being treated as the enemy.

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