Cyprus: Latest working life developments – Q3 2016
A strike by primary school teachers and the resumption of public service recruitment 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 2016.
Primary teachers stop work and warn of further strikes
On 21 September 2016, primary school teachers stopped work for one hour in protest at staffing problems. The Pancyprian Greek Teachers Association (POED) and the Ministry of Education disagreed over whether these problems had been adequately resoloved by the appointment of 147 new primary teachers. POED gave 10 reasons for its actions, including:
- the late staffing of schools this calendar year;
- the Ministry’s lack of understanding of schools’ needs;
- the unacceptable transfer of teachers;
- the amount of time required for teaching;
- the unacceptable use of temporary teachers to fill staffing gaps.
In its response, the Ministry stated that all the problems that have emerged this year are common and manageable, and most have been settled.
POED had already decided to undertake a further six one-hour stoppages over the next two months to keep the issue at the top of the Ministry's priority list. In addition, it has demanded the intervention of the President of Cyprus to resolve the conflict. Failing such intervention, POED said, its board would decide on the escalation of action.
Public service gets go ahead to hire workers
In July, the government asked the House of Representatives for permission to hire 641 public service workers; these jobs had been frozen under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2013 between the government and the Troika (that is, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), and approved by the House of Representatives.
The request initially created a dispute among the members of the Committee of Finance of the House of Representatives because it included not only the hiring of new personnel but also the promotion of existing personnel, many of whom were on the top salary scale.
However, the Committee approved the unfreezing of 617 positions, requesting at the same time a detailed account from the Ministry of Finance of the list of the needs per department, ministry and independent authority. It also asked for details of the scheduling of mid-ranking ministry staff and evidence of the actual needs of particular departments.
On 3 August, Glafkos Hadjipetrou, the Secretary General of the Pancyprian Public Servants’ Trade Union (PASYDY), welcomed the decision and said PASYDY expects personnel to be hired in 2017 to fill key public sector posts that still remain vacant.
In early September 2016, the Annual Report of the Committee of Public Service for 2015 was released. The head of the Committee, Georgios Papageorgiou, presented the key findings at a press conference. He spoke about the development of opening up public service job positions since 2013. He said that, in 2013, only 19 working posts had been 'unfrozen' or made available. In 2014, some 126 were made available, rising to 426 in 2015 and to 485 in the first half of 2016.
Mr Papageorgiou also discussed the rise and fall in the level of voluntary retirement by public servants. For the first years under the austerity measures and due to public servants worrying about their lump sum pension payments being taxed, the number of voluntary retirements soared – particularly in 2013 when there were 926. The stability of the economy seems to have regulated the trend, with the number of voluntary retirements for 2015 dropping to 97. He added that the number of voluntary retirements so far in 2016 was only 56.
The government asked the House of Representatives to approve the unfreezing, as the House originally had to approve all the provisions of the MoU. There is continuing dialogue between the government and the stakeholders, including the state unions, on the restructuring and understaffing of the public service and it is probable that the unfreezing of recruitment stoppages was discussed as part of this.