Anti-discrimination guidelines for third-country nationals

The Cyprus Labour Institute has published a self-help guide against discrimination for third-country nationals. The guide, which was published in December 2008, aims to offer information to organisations that represent the interests of vulnerable population groups, as well as to members of such groups. It also provides information on public services, trade unions and voluntary organisations that offer help and support to victims of discrimination at the workplace and in society.

Within the framework of the EU-funded programme on ‘Awareness-raising activities against discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, religion and age’, the Cyprus Labour Institute (Ινστιτούτο Εργασίας Κύπρου, ΙΝΕΚ-PΕΟ) has issued guidelines for third-country nationals against discrimination at the workplace and in other social activities.

The guide comprises two sections providing information on the European and Cypriot anti-discrimination legislation, as well as the Cyprus labour relations system, social insurance and healthcare schemes, and social welfare provisions in Cyprus.

European and Cypriot anti-discrimination legislation

The first part of the guide briefly describes the content of the European and Cypriot legislation against discrimination and racism. It provides detailed information on what constitutes discrimination, including direct and indirect discrimination as well as the different forms of discrimination prohibited by law. The anti-discrimination guide also gives information on exceptions provided for under the directives in specific cases. According to the law, exceptions to the anti-discrimination legislation are only permitted in the case of ‘genuine occupational requirements’, provided that the objective is legitimate and the requirement is proportionate.

Furthermore, the guide advises victims of discrimination to exhaust all legal possibilities in settling the matter outside of court, due to the fact that court procedures can be lengthy and are costly at both financial and personal level. For these reasons, the guide suggests that discrimination victims should ask for support from an organisation involved in the area where the discrimination has occurred, in order to submit a complaint to the Anti-discrimination Body and/or to the District Court or the Labour Disputes Court.

Employment, social protection and medical care

In the second part, the guide outlines the main features of the country’s labour relations and welfare benefits systems. In a simple way, it highlights the basic provisions regarding employment rights and outlines in which case third-country nationals are eligible for social benefits, social insurance and medical care services.

Right to undertake employment

Cyprus has an advanced labour relations system which defines the rights and obligations of employees and employers, their relations, and the terms and conditions of employment. The working conditions and terms of employment are regulated by the labour legislation and collective agreements between employers and employees. Third-country nationals have restricted access to the Cypriot labour market. An entry visa is required if third-country nationals come to Cyprus in search of employment; subsequently, they have to apply for an Alien Registration Certificate and a resident permit within three months of their arrival. The application form must be completed and submitted to the local offices of the immigration service of the police or to the district office of the Civil Registry and Migration Department of the Ministry of the Interior (Υπουργός Εσωτερικών, MOI) in the capital city Nicosia.

Once third-country nationals are employed, they are not allowed to change employer during the first and fourth year of their stay in Cyprus without the permission of the Civil Registry and Migration Department. The permission to change employer can be given during the second and third year of employment if an employee can prove a violation of labour rights.

Social insurance scheme

Participation in the social insurance scheme in Cyprus is compulsory by law for all employees. The scheme is funded through the contributions made to the Social Insurance Fund by the employees, employers and the state. Third-country nationals have the right to transfer their accumulated old-age insurance rights to their country of origin; nonetheless, this is only possible if they come from a country with which the Republic of Cyprus has concluded agreements in this regard. At the moment, such agreements only exist with Australia, Canada, Egypt and Switzerland. However, due to the fact that they can only work for four years in Cyprus, only a small proportion of third-country nationals can accumulate sufficient old-age insurance rights.

Medical care

Third-country nationals holding an employment permit can have access to the public health services if they pay their contributions. However, third-country nationals should be covered by basic private healthcare insurance plans. The responsibility for the latter lies with the employer, while the costs are partly covered by the employer and employee.

Commentary

In its attempt to fight racism and discrimination, INEK-PEO has published three further guides focusing on vulnerable groups, and providing information and support to the victims of discrimination. These documents refer to three different target groups – namely, European migrants, Turkish Cypriot workers and young workers. In the framework of the same programme, ΙΝΕΚ-PΕΟ has also created an internet portal called ‘Stop discrimination’ as a tool for people to exchange views and engage in dialogue.

Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK-PEO)

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