No minister follows the government mantra of pleasing the maximum number of people as loyally as Labour Minister Yiannis Panayiotou. Ever since his appointment, he has been on a mission to please unions, delivering an increase in the Cost of Living Allowance and raising the minimum wage.

He had less success with Sunday shopping, the president stopping him initiating a dialogue on the matter as he had announced he planned to, and we suspect the same happened with regard to the unions’ demand to have a say in the procedures for the employment of third country nationals. The unions were eventually kept out of the procedure.

On the issue of the 12 per cent penalty on pensions taken in the 63rd year, the president has given a free rein to Panayiotou, who has been at pains to satisfy union bosses even though the matter should not even have been up for negotiation. The so-called penalty has been in place for 10 years because actuary studies considered it necessary for preserving the viability of the social insurance fund.

The matter, which was the first step of the thinly-veiled attempt by the unions to lower the retirement age, should never have been up for discussion. The retirement age is set at 65 and anyone wanting to retire at 63 would have 12 per cent deducted from their monthly pension. Panayiotou, said as much, speaking on a CyBC radio show on Tuesday morning, saying that referring to the 12 per cent deduction as a ‘penalty’ showed the failure of the state to explain to citizens the matter. It was not a ‘punishment’ but a concession for those who wanted to take their state pension two years before the statutory retirement age.

Panayiotou, however, would carry on engaging in negotiations with the unions, which had unanimously rejected the government compromise proposal, deeming it totally unsatisfactory. There was no agreement at a meeting on Monday, but the minister insisted on Tuesday that there was “room for us to arrive at an arrangement that is consensual.” It was still possible for some people to benefit in accordance with the means of the fund, he said.

It is clear the minister was not giving up the effort to hand something to the union bosses, which was irresponsible. Even the idea that there could be a consensual arrangement is folly – had he asked the other stakeholders if they consented to making exceptions on the 12 per cent penalty? A responsible minister would have stood firm, making it clear that this was not a matter for haggling and consensual arrangements. The social insurance fund is the responsibility of the government, which has a political, legal and moral duty to safeguard its future viability. Too bad if he has to disappoint the union bosses, but they were not elected to run the country.