Small trade unions oppose change in union law

In December 2009, the Pancyprian Federation of Independent Trade Unions organised a meeting of independent trade unions. In opposition to the government’s proposed changes to the legislation on trade unions, they resolved to take all necessary action to prevent the new draft bill, as submitted to the House of Representatives in October 2009, from being passed into law. The unions are unhappy with the proposed provisions, particularly regarding the minimum number of members.

Trade unions examine draft bill

On 2 December 2009, following an invitation from the Pancyprian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (Παγκύπρια Ομοσπονδία Ανεξάρτητων Συντεχνιών, POAS), a number of independent trade unions attended a meeting with the aim of examining the draft bill introduced to the House of Representatives in October 2009 seeking to amend the legislation on trade unions. Apart from the nine member unions of POAS, another nine independent trade unions also took part in the meeting. They included the:

  • Union of Cypriot Filmmakers (Ένωση Κινηματογραφιστών Κύπρου, EKKY);
  • Free Organisation of Municipal Employees of Lefkosia (Ελεύθερη Οργάνωση Δημοτικών Υπαλλήλων Λευκωσίας, EODYL);
  • Pancyprian Union of Government, Semi-government and Local Authority Employees (Παγκύπρια Συντεχνία Εργαζομένων Δημοσίου, Ημικρατικών και Τοπικής Αυτοδιοίκησης, PASE-DITA);
  • Pancyprian Union of Government Doctors (Παγκύπρια Συντεχνία Κυβερνητικών Ιατρών, PASYKI);
  • Pancyprian Union of Nurses (Παγκύπρια Συντεχνία Νοσοκόμων, PASYNO);
  • Union of Secondary Education Teachers (Συντεχνία Εκπαιδευτικών Δευτεροβάθμιας Εκπαίδευσης, SEDEK);
  • Union of Technical Staff at the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (Συντεχνία Επιστημονικού Τεχνικού Προσωπικού Αρχής Τηλεπικοινωνιών Κύπρου, SETEP-ATIK);
  • Union of National Bank of Greece Employees (Συντεχνία Προσωπικού Εθνικής Τράπεζας Ελλάδος, SYPETE);
  • Union of Hourly-paid Government Staff of the Ministry of Defence (Συντεχνία Ωρομίσθιου Προσωπικού Κυβερνητικού Προσωπικού Υπουργείου Άμυνας, SOKPYA).

These nine trade unions resolved to take concerted action to prevent the proposed changes from being passed into law. Specifically, apart from scheduled meetings with all of the country’s political forces and trade union organisations, the independent unions decided to file complaints with the EU and the International Labour Organization (ILO) about these developments.

Brief history of legislation on trade unions

Previous amendments to the legislation on trade unions, as effected between 1970 and 1996, regarding both the provisions of the basic law and also the provisions of the regulations issued on the basis thereof, have only slightly changed the main body of the legislation. As a result, the provisions of the original legislation as laid down in 1965 are still in force. In this context, the new draft bill was drawn up as part of the efforts being made by the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων) since 1995 to modernise the existing legislation in order to bring its provisions into line with present-day conditions. For this purpose, extensive consultations were held before the competent tripartite technical committee set up by decision of the Labour Advisory Board (Εργατικό Συμβουλευτικό Σώμα, ESS). The consultations, which lasted almost 10 years, resulted in unanimous approval in 2006 of the impending changes by the ESS. The new draft bill in its current form is the result of legislative drafting completed in July 2009.

Trade union opposition to proposed legislative changes

According to an announcement made by POAS on 10 November 2009, with which the independent trade union organisations that are not POAS members agree, the proposed amendments to the law on trade unions aim to abolish trade union freedom and the inalienable right of workers to join the trade union organisation of their choice. More specifically, the independent trade unions oppose the increase in the minimum number of members required to form a union from 20 to 100 persons (Article 9). They also oppose the provisions of Article 67, according to which at the end of the transitional period – which will not exceed two years from the entry into force of the new law – registered trade unions with fewer than 100 members will be automatically disbanded. In this context, the independent trade unions propose either abolishing the specific provisions, or alternatively excluding from the specific provisions unions with fewer than 100 members that are members of a trade union federation; this provision will in fact be included in their statutes. In the same context, the trade unions also strongly disagree with all of the proposed provisions (Articles 15, 16 and 26), according to which powers exercised by the judicial branch will, under the new law, be exercised by the executive branch. One example is Article 16 of the new draft bill, which stipulates that the assignment of powers to revoke the registration of a trade union will not be effected any longer by the district courts but by the Trade Union Registrar.

Government defends draft bill

Unlike the independent trade unions, the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance argues that an attempt is being made through the new draft bill to lay down a balanced statutory framework that will contribute to the smooth and harmonious operation of the trade union organisations. Regarding solely the increase in the minimum number of union members, which constitutes the most important difference for the independent unions although many of them are not directly affected, the ministry believes that it will function as a proactive measure to prevent the registration of so-called ‘yellow trade unions’ – that is, unions which are not part of the trade union movement. The ministry argues that setting a minimum of 100 members makes the trade unions viable and thus able to support their members’ rights more effectively. Commenting on the opposition of the independent trade unions to the change in Articles 15, 16 and 26, the ministry points out that this specific amendment is a constitutional obligation, based on the provisions of the Constitution for the separation and exercise of judiciary, legislative and executive powers (Articles 152, 61 and 46).

Common agreement on some amendments

Other important amendments on which there has been no disagreement involve the translation of all provisions into Greek, increased sanctions in the event of violation or failure to enforce the relevant legislation, as well as the introduction of definitions for the concepts of strike and lockout. For the purposes of harmonisation with the provisions of the European Social Charter, the draft bill removes the condition requiring approval by the steering committee before strike measures are taken. As a result, any action taken is now subject to approval by the members affected by the labour dispute.

Eva Soumeli, Cyprus Institute of Labour (INEK/PEO)

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