Cyprus: Latest developments in working life Q3 2019
An agreement in principle between stakeholders for the renewal of the collective agreement in the hotel industry, work stoppages in the education sector, and the warning of a 24-hour strike at Hellenic Bank are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Cyprus in the third quarter of 2019.
Hotel industry agreement awaiting approval
In July 2019, the mediation services of the Ministry of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance intervened in the long-running negotiations over the renewal of the collective agreement for the hotel sector. The Union of Hotel and Recreational Establishment Employees of Cyprus (SYXKA-PEO) and the Hotel, Catering and Restaurant Employees Federation (OEXEKA-SEK) on the trade union side, and the Cyprus Hotel Association (PASYXE) and the Association of Tourist Enterprises (STEK) on the employer organisation side, had been in discussions since early 2019, but were unable to reach an agreement.
The intervention aimed to help the two sides overcome their differences and come to an agreement, as well as eliminate the threat of universal strikes in the industry. To this end, Minister of Labour and Social Security Zeta Emilianidou led a number of meetings with the social partners throughout July and August. The trade unions pursued, among others, the restoration of all working benefits conceded by workers since 2013 due to the economic crisis, a 4% annual pay increase and the legal regulation of wages. The trade unions used the systematic violation of the provisions of the collective agreement by many employers – who conclude individual work contracts with employees that include considerably lower wages and fewer benefits than foreseen in the collective agreement – as their justification for pursuing legal regulations.
The minister’s efforts were rewarded on 28 August, when the social partners accepted the ministerial proposal for an agreement in principle. The proposal provides a definition of minimum wages and legal protection for wages for 19 low-paid hotel professions, a gradual 5.5% pay increase over a period of four years, an increase of the reimbursement for work during holidays and Sundays, and a definition of the percentages for worker and employer contributions to provident and welfare funds.
The proposal was first approved by the boards of the trade unions and then by workers in district assemblies. In contrast, the employer organisations requested clarifications from the minister on certain provisions of the proposal before submitting it for approval to their governing boards. The employer organisations then postponed the approval process indefinitely, due to the collapse of Thomas Cook and the need to record its negative impact on Cypriot hotels. The action sparked a strong reaction from the trade unions and the minister intervened by setting a deadline of 26 September for the decision of the employer organisations.
Work stoppages in the education sector
The three Cypriot teachers’ trade unions held one-hour work stoppages on 24, 25 and 26 September respectively in a protest over problems encountered within schools. According to the Pancyprian Organisation of Greek Teachers (POED), the Organisation of Greek Secondary Education Teachers (OELMEK) and the Association of Technical Teachers (OLTEK), these problems include:
- the introduction of mid-term exams (in secondary education)
- a lack of heating and air-conditioning facilities in classrooms
- the definition of a pension scheme for newcomers to the education sector
- poor staffing levels
- inadequate support for non-native speaking children and children with illiteracy problems (in primary education)
Minister of Education and Culture Kostas Champiaouris stated that the teachers’ decision to implement the work stoppages did not follow the established consultation processes and called on the unions to open dialogue. He also asked the unions to record their position and suggestions to facilitate the dialogue process.
The Pancyprian Confederation of Parents Federations of Public Secondary Schools had a strong reaction to the announcement of the work stoppages. The confederation called them unjustified and emphasised the loss of teaching time for students, the problems that work stoppages created for parents and the issue of the security of students during stoppages. The media began to report on the dispute and the issue of mid-term exams became a key focus for the unions, parents’ associations and Ministry of Education and Culture. Dialogue to resolve the dispute is expected to begin soon.
Union plans 24-hour strike at Hellenic Bank
The Cyprus Union of Bank Employees (ETYK) announced plans to stage a 24-hour work strike on 11 October 2019 at Hellenic Bank. The ETYK claims that the bank has violated agreements that were made regarding the integration of staff after Hellenic Bank acquired the Cooperative Bank a year ago. The agreements stated that:
- ex-Cooperative bank employees would be integrated on the same pay scale as colleagues that performed the same duties for Hellenic Bank
- all agreements would be fully implemented for all employees including the restoration of wages and provident fund allowances
- annual pay increases would be granted, along with cost of living allowances
The ETYK also claims that Hellenic Bank aimed to repeal the agreements and create two categories of employees. As of the end of Q3 2019, Hellenic Bank had not reacted to the ETYK’s announcement.
Collective agreements for the private sector
Discussions are underway to conclude the first collective agreements for the private sector in Cyprus. This is the first attempt in the history of Cyprus to conclude collective agreements in the private sector aiming to regulate wages through legal means and will therefore be an important achievement for trade unionism.
These discussions follow the conclusion of a sectoral collective agreement in the construction industry earlier in 2019, which provides legal protection for working rights and benefits. Apart from the symbolic meaning of these two achievements, the agreement covers nearly 20% of the total workforce in Cyprus and paves the way for other industries to pursue their own legal regulations.