Cyprus: Latest working life developments – Q2 2016
Presidential intervention to prevent a doctors’ strike, a dispute about renewal of collective agreements for airport ground staff and social outcry over women’s exclusion from the National Guard are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Cyprus in the second quarter of 2016.
Presidential intervention to prevent doctors’ strike
On 10 June 2016 the state doctors’ union (PASYKI) announced its intention to strike in protest at medical understaffing, prompting the intervention of the President of the Republic, Nicos Anastasiades, in the conflict. to soothe the dispute and push for the implementation of the National Health System. The austerity measures imposed by the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the EU and Cyprus in 2013 blocked the recruitment of medical staff. At the same time, state hospitals experienced unprecedented overcrowding. When the President intervened in the doctors’ dispute, he asked the Director of Medical Services for a detailed list of staff shortages and held meetings with all health stakeholders to determine the most urgent needs. The Cabinet convened urgently and approved a number of measures, including:
- the hiring of 28 physicians;
- the submission of a bill on the autonomy of state hospitals by 15 July 2016;
- the hiring of an external expert to assess medical and paramedic staffing needs;
- the assignment of a financial impact study to a consultancy agency in preparation for the implementation of a National Health Service.
Warning strikes by airport ground staff
Deadlock on the renewal of the collective agreements for airport ground staff caused work stoppages in Larnaca and Paphos airports on 4 and 6 July 2016. An interim agreement, reached with the Labour Minister's intervention, had promised payment of the annual salary increment for 2015 in two instalments, 50% in May and 50% in June 2016. The companies made the payment in May but refused to make the payment due for June.
Workers were also demanding the restoration of their pre-crisis collective agreement, and the ground handling companies were demanding changes to the agreement. Public comments by the General Director of the Employers and Industrialists Federation (OEB), Michael Antoniou, about the warning strikes were seen by workers and unions as inflammatory. He said that when 'well-paid ground handling workers’ struck to demand pay increases, the impact was felt by many other companies. In response, the Secretary General of the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO) argued that workers had been ‘put against the wall’ by OEB, yet employers could violate signed agreements with impunity.
Social outcry over exclusion of women from National Guard
The National Guard is being modernised. On 15 May 2016, the Cabinet approved the recruitment of 3,000 professional soldiers and the simultaneous reduction of mandatory military service for conscript soldiers from 24 to 14 months of service. The decision caught the opposition parties unaware and drew harsh criticism about the lack of advance information or consultation about the changes. The announced scheme, however, attracted the interest of unemployed young people. Τhe number of applications submitted surpassed all expectations; the defence ministry received 5,005 applications for the 3,000 vacancies. However, women were excluded from applying and this drew adverse reaction from civil society. Trade unions, non-government organisations and women’s organisations saw the scheme as an act of institutional discrimination against women. The Defence Minister, responding to the outcry, argued that only those who had completed mandatory military service were eligible to apply. This condition excluded not only women, but also men who had for various reasons been exempted from the mandatory duty to serve in the army.