If union bosses were asked to choose whomever they wanted as the Christodoulides government’s minister of labour, they would not have found anyone more prepared to champion their interests than the man given the job. The Minister, Yiannis Panayiotou, has always acted as a union yes-man, who has given up any pretense of impartiality, in his tireless efforts to satisfy all demands of the labour syndicates and cultivate his profile as the guardian angel of the workers.

His presentation of the ministry’s work in the past year, consisted primarily of a list of union demands he had satisfied, such as increasing the percentage of CoLA, the raising of the minimum wage by decree and also the minimum wage in the hotel industry, introducing legislation for telework, stopping outdoor work during the heatwave and drafting the law protecting workers from standing at their jobs for too long. He also increased maternity leave to five-and-a-half months and the income of practising lawyers and engineers by €100.

In the coming year the ministry would focus on the stronger regulation of terms and conditions of work, offer more support to working parents and tackle illegal work; among other things he would also extend parental leave and increase birth allowance. While there are commendable plans to increase workplace safety, most of his measures consist of increased benefits like those taken by the Christofias government. There were also the obligatory platitudes that are the trademark of this government – he spoke about the further “utilisation of local human resources with the aim of strengthening the Cypriot core of the economy”.

The Cypriot economy is close to full employment levels, there is a labour shortage of about 150,000 workers according to the minister’s own estimates, so how does he plan to strengthen the Cypriot core of the economy? The priority is not the economy’s core, but the acute labour shortages that will have severe consequences in the hotel industry if this is not addressed now. Yet Panayiotou seems oblivious to this very real and pressing problem, preferring to clamp down on illegal employment, by increasing inspections by 65 per cent and increasing fines! This is at a time when businesses cannot find workers.

For the pro-union minister, the economy would not be affected in a negative way by inadequate numbers in the labour market. Was he preparing businesses to accept that ministry approvals for third country workers would not satisfy the needs of the economy? Probably as he also suggested that there should be “better cooperation” between the social partners (unions and employers) on the employment of foreign workers, something that is unlikely to happen. Unions have consistently tried to minimise the employment of foreign workers and Panayiotou appears to be helping them achieve this objective with his rhetoric about consensus and cooperation.

There can be no consensus when the minister of labour who tries to broker it is so blatantly biased against business.