New agreement in sea and coastal water transport

On 7 January 2011, trade unions and employer organisations representing workers in the sea and coastal water transport sector in Cyprus agreed to renew their collective agreement. Effective for three years, the new agreement follows a general trend of moderate pay increases in the country, providing for a total rise of about 1.5% in basic wages (but only from the second year of the agreement). The new agreement makes no substantial changes in areas other than pay.

After direct bargaining, and just a week after the expiry of the previous agreement (CY0707019Q), the trade unions and employer organisations representing workers in sea and coastal water transport signed a new collective agreement covering about 10,000 workers in about 1,000 boats.

On the employee side, the new agreement was signed by the Federation of Transport, Petroleum and Agriculture Workers (OMEPEGE/SEK) and the Cyprus Agricultural, Forestry, Transport, Port, Seamen and Allied Occupations Trade Union (SEGDAMELIN/PEO).

The signatory representing the employers was the Cyprus Shipowners Employers Association (CYSEA), a relatively newly established employer association in the sector. CYSEA was formed on 31 May 2006 and is considered by its members to be the sister association of the Cyprus Shipping Chamber (CSC). According to the organisation itself, CYSEA was set up in order to attain a more important and persuasive role in the negotiation process of the collective bargaining agreement in Cyprus. Against this background, it is striking that the new agreement was not signed by the Cyprus Union of Shipowners (CUS). Until 2006, CUS was the only recognised employer organisation of shipowners with ships under the Cyprus flag, and as such the only signatory party representing the employers in the sector for collective bargaining purposes.

The new agreement will be valid for three years, effective retrospectively from 1 January 2011 until 31 December 2013.

Although no mechanism for extending collective labour agreements currently exists in Cyprus, in sea cargo transport the collective labour agreement is extended by signing a special certificate, with ongoing validity. This certifies that the owners of every vessel under a Cyprus flag have concluded a collective agreement with OMEPEGE/SEK or SEGDAMELIN/PEO, and the vessel is covered by agreements acceptable to OMEPEGE/SEK as well as those necessary for the application of the Cyprus laws concerning minimum number of employees on a boat, social security, repatriation and sickness or accident terms for the officers and crew of the specific vessel. The certificate notes that the vessel is beneficially owned by Cypriots.

Pay issues

The pay-related part of the agreement does not provide for any pay rises in the first year. For the following two years, the agreement stipulates a total increase of about 1.5% in basic wages – an increase in line with the average productivity rise over the past three years, to be granted in two instalments: 1% in 2012 and 0.5% in 2013.

Non-pay issues

In relation to non-pay elements, such as working conditions, working time and annual leave, the new agreement does not contain any important changes. Overall, however, its content has been considerably updated in order to match other similar national collective bargaining agreements, in line with the recent approval of the new Cyprus Tonnage Tax System by the European Union.

Commentary

Significant difficulties have been noted regarding bargaining coverage of people employed in the sea and coastal water transport sector in Cyprus. The vast majority (over 95%) of people employed in the sector are foreign workers who, due to the nature of their work and employment status, are not recorded in the official employment statistics. It is worth mentioning that Article 14 of the agreement provides that at least 25% of the crew of the vessel to which the agreement applies shall be composed by Cypriots, provided they are available. The sector is also characterised by a high staff turnover. As regards the extent of coverage by collective labour agreements, apart from the infringements recorded in relation to the implementation of the existing agreements and the difficulty of organising many of the employees in the sector, the two trade union organisations point out that there is currently a lack of competence to conclude collective agreements when ships’ beneficial owners are not Cypriots.

Eva Soumeli, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)

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