Hoteliers’ association (Pasyxe) general director Philokypros Rousounides said on Friday that “the myth of cheap labour from abroad has to end”.

His comments came as the debate regarding a relaxation of the requirements for third country nationals to be able to obtain work permits in Cyprus continues to rage on.

Speaking to CyBC radio, he said “third country nationals who arrive from abroad are subject to the same laws and the same collective labour agreements as our Cypriot colleagues and our European colleagues.”

Also speaking on the radio, Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou defended the government’s policies to ease the process through which third country nationals can obtain work permits, expressing the government’s commitment to both filling labour shortages and satisfying workers’ demands.

However, Rousounides’ and Panayiotou’s assuredness on the matter has done little to ease fears among trade unions, who say they have been “bypassed” in the process.

Trade union Sek’s general secretary Andreas Matsas had said on Thursday that the government “proceeded without any consultation … to grant work permits to third country nationals, without taking into account the trade unions’ positions.”

He also expressed concerns that President Nikos Christodoulides had “proceeded to announce decisions on the matter without any reference to the need to implement collective labour agreements.”

He stressed that the government should grant work permits “only in the sectors and professions where it is judged that there is no local workforce available, but also that all opportunities for attracting [European Union national] workers have been exhausted.”

This point, he said, has been “intentionally abandoned in the effort to employ very cheap and unskilled labour at the expense of the rest of the workforce, and creating unfair competition between businesses.”

Sek, alongside fellow unions Deok and Peo, demanded that the labour consultative body be “immediately convened to discuss and reach a conclusion on this matter.”

The unions added that they cannot rule out taking industrial action during the high tourist season should their grievances not be considered by the government.

With this in mind, Deok chairman Stelios Christodoulou said “February will be decisive” for agreements to be implemented to pacify the unions and ensure that labour shortages are met.

“A solution must be found immediately because our limits are running out,” he said.