Cyprus: Latest working life developments Q4 2018

A labour dispute in the construction industry, a 24-hour strike by dockworkers and a protest by hotel employees against the outsourcing of hotel services are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Cyprus in the fourth quarter of 2018.

OSEOK withdrawal leads to dispute in construction industry

In October 2018, the Federation of Building Contractors’ Associations of Cyprus (OSEOK) decided to withdraw from the ‘special agreements’ it had previously signed with the sectoral trade unions – the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO), the Cyprus Workers’ Confederation (SEK) and the Democratic Labour Federation of Cyprus (DEOK). The special agreements relate to a draft bill that was prepared after 10 years of consultation and intended to pave the way for the implementation and renewal of a collective agreement for the sector (which has been pending since 2013).

In an effort to resolve the dispute, the Ministry of Labour’s mediation service held three meetings with the interested parties starting on 4 November. However, this intervention did not produce the desired results as OSEOK remained steadfast in its decision to withdraw.

The special agreements and the decision to postpone the collective agreement renewal represented a gesture of goodwill by workers and trade unions following the severe downturn faced by the construction industry during the economic crisis. The General Secretary of the PEO stated that workers are determined to support the bill and blame OSEOK for breaking the agreements. Meanwhile, OSEOK stated that it is prepared to discuss renewing the collective agreement, despite having rejected the bill. According to the organisation’s president, OSEOK considers the two issues – the renewal of the collective agreement and the bill – as separate and parallel processes. However, this position is contrary to the provisions of the special agreements.

In another development, the district workers’ committees held five general assemblies in December and decided to authorise their union councils to take industrial action, if and when necessary. Given the positions expressed by the two parties, strike action seems inevitable.

Dockworkers strike over non-renewal of collective agreement

On 28 December 2018, dockworkers held a 24-hour strike in protest over the lack of progress that has been made in relation to the renewal of the collective agreement. Trade unions hold the employer organisations responsible, accusing them of deliberate delays.

The renewal has been pending since November 2017 and in the meantime dialogue between the trade unions and the port management companies – DP World Limassol and Eurogate – has been initiated. However, two 2-hour stoppages by dockworkers were held on 18 October and 14 December 2018, and the Ministry of Labour’s attempts to resolve the issue through mediation failed. The legally appointed port council, made up of members of the five major stakeholders, decided to suspend the strike action and refer the issue to arbitration. The port council’s position was rejected by the Cyprus Agricultural, Forestry, Transport, Port, Seamen and Allied Occupations Trade Union (SEGDAMELIN-PEO) and, according to a trade union representative, this prompted workers to take further action.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Transport, Petroleum and Agriculture Workers (OMEPEGE-SEK) advised its dockworker members not to take part in the strike, warning that the port council was entitled to take disciplinary action against them. OMEPEGE-SEK argued that the port council’s decision meant that the strike should be suspended. However, its members ignored this advice and joined their co-workers from SEGDAMELIN-PEO in strike action. The strikers were referred to the disciplinary committee of the port council.

Hotel employees protest against outsourcing bill

On 20 November 2018, hotel employees marched from the Ministry of Finance to the House of Representatives (HoR) to protest against a government bill that provides for the outsourcing of hotel services. The protest was organised jointly by the two hotel trade unions – the Union of Hotel and Recreational Establishment Employees of Cyprus (SYXKA-PEO) and the Hotel, Catering and Restaurant Employees Federation (OEXEKA-SEK). The unions believe that the provisions of the bill deregulate the terms of employment of hotel employees and abolish existing employment legislation, which they say will lead to a significant number of redundancies and lower the quality of hotel services. The unions also denounced the fact that the government had taken the bill forward to the HoR without consulting social partners on an issue that is closely related to the terms of employment in the industry.

The two hotel employer organisations – the Cyprus Hotel Association (PASYXE) and the Association of Tourist Enterprises (STEK) – considered the protest and the reactions of trade unions and hotel employees to be unjustified because the bill, in their opinion, is not related to the terms of employment. They claim that the bill is clearly of a technical nature and relates to the building criteria for hotel premises.

Trade unions called on the government to initiate a constructive dialogue to resolve the issue and warned of further industrial action if the bill is put to a vote in the HoR before discussions have taken place.

Commentary

Five years after the economic crisis that hit the country with the privatisation of key services such as the ports, austerity measures, and cuts in salaries and worker benefits, the trade unions are still fighting for a return to pre-crisis conditions and against the reluctance of employer organisations to cooperate. A decision in favour of industrial action in the construction, hotels and ports sectors is expected in the near future.

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