Temporary public employees threaten strike action
Temporary employees in public administration resolved to hold a strike of indefinite duration in protest against further dismissals. The strike action was scheduled to begin in early October 2006. Their decision would be retracted only if the government were to stop the ongoing dismissals of temporary employees for two months and enter into dialogue aimed at reaching a solution to the problem.
On 30 August 2006, the Central Council of the Pancyprian Coordinating Committee for Temporary Public Employees decided to begin a strike of indefinite duration on 5 October 2006 in protest against the further dismissals of temporary workers in public administration. The Central Council stated that the decision would be rescinded only if the government were to bring the ongoing dismissals of temporary employees to a halt for two months and initiate dialogue aimed at finding a solution to the problem. The general assembly of temporary employees was expected to approve the strike during the last 10 days of September 2006.
Causes of crisis
Tension between the government and temporary public employees has been mounting since late April 2006, when the government carried out the first dismissals of temporary employees under both fixed-term and open-ended contracts in public administration, including educational services. According to data provided by a representative of the temporary public employees, since April 2006 as many as 120 employees have been dismissed, 16 of whom were employed under open-ended employment contracts, and it seems that hundreds more dismissals are in the offing.
In the government’s view, the dismissals result from the system for hiring temporary employees, as laid down in Law 108(I)/1995 on the procedure for hiring temporary employees in public and educational services. More specifically, Law 108(I)/1995, as amended before 2005, provides for the termination of employment of temporary employees if their jobs are to be filled by permanent staff. This is carried out regardless of whether the temporary staff are employed under open-ended or fixed-term contracts and based on the order in which they were listed when they were hired.
Temporary employees’ position
According to the Chair of the Pancyprian Coordinating Committee for Temporary Public Employees, Mr Ktoridis, the problem that has arisen has both a moral and a legal aspect.
In an announcement on 9 September 2006 to all competent government bodies, the political parties and the media, the Coordinating Committee stated that the moral aspect of the problem refers to the government’s commitment not to dismiss any public employees before the discussion is concluded and a final decision is taken on the matter; however, the committee believes that this commitment was subsequently violated. It should be noted that the government’s commitment was made public by the Speaker of Parliament after consultations with the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, on 28 April 2006.
As regards the legal aspect of the problem, the same announcement on 9 September contains a lengthy statement of reasons, according to which the dismissals of the temporary public employees who were employed under open-ended contracts are unfair. The announcement also put forward that these dismissals were carried out in violation of Cypriot Law 98(I)/2003 on fixed-term employees, pertaining to the prohibition of unfavourable and discriminatory treatment, and harmonising EU Directive 99/70/EC concerning the framework agreement on fixed-term work with Cypriot law.
According to the Coordinating Committee for Temporary Public Employees, the government is basing its argument on a series of laws previous to Law 98(I)/2003, which violate both the spirit and the content of Directive 99/70/EC, as well as relevant decisions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). As a result, the acquis communautaire (EU body of legislation) does not override these earlier laws in practice. In this context, the Coordinating Committee points out that the government is in effect violating the Constitution itself, on the basis of the latest amendment to the document (Law 127(I)/06, IV), and specifically the provisions of Article 1A.
The Coordinating Committee also considers that the government has violated the provisions of a relevant circular from the Department of Public Administration and Personnel of the Ministry of Finance (Υπουργείο Οικονομικών) dated 21 December 2004. The circular in question stipulates that, if temporary employees have completed a total period of employment of 30 months, their services will be terminated, provided however that the provisions of Law 98(I)/2003 EE are applicable.
In accordance with an announcement issued by the Ministry of Finance on 18 August 2006, the termination of temporary employment contracts is carried out on the basis of the provisions of existing legislation (see above, Law 108(I)/1995). However, following the conversion of the fixed-term employment contracts of a number of temporary employees into open-ended ones, the government proceeded to submit to parliament a draft bill aimed at amending the law in such a way that fixed-term contracts would first be terminated, followed by open-ended contracts. Instead, parliament passed different regulations into law, and this law was remitted by President Papadopoulos. Thus, when vacancies are filled by the Public Service Committee, the government must comply and apply the provisions of the existing legislation.
With regard to reports stating that the government made a commitment not to dismiss temporary employees until the matter was finally resolved, the government wishes to clarify that the only commitment it undertook referred exclusively to the period before the new parliament was to take office, after the most recent elections on 21 May 2006, and that it fully respected its commitment.
At present, around 2,200 temporary public employees meet the fixed and permanent needs of the public services, and therefore may be replaced by permanent staff in due course.
Evangelia Soumeli, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK-PEO)