Cyprus: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017

The reintroduction of the Cost of Living Allowance and a two-hour strike by emergency nurses over the government’s inaction on violence in public hospitals, 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 2017.

Reintroduction of COLA

After months of negotiations between the Ministry of Labour and social partners over the terms regulating the return of the Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), the Minister of Labour, Zeta Emilianidou, submitted a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ proposal in July 2017; the allowance had been suspended since 2012 when the country’s economy collapsed. On 28 July, private sector trade unions and employer organisations signed the terms proposed by the Minister. The agreement provides the partial return of COLA from 1 January 2018 for a transitional period of three years (2018–2020).

The agreement provides for:

  • the calculation and disbursement of COLA once a year rather than twice (as it was before being suspended);
  • the disbursement of COLA at 50%;
  • incorporation of the accumulative COLA rate into basic salaries and a new starting point for accumulation, from zero;
  • suspension of COLA in the event of economic contraction in the second and third quarters of the preceding year.

Within this transitional period, the parties have also agreed to engage in tripartite social dialogue for a permanent arrangement on COLA.

As trade unions had made the reintroduction of COLA a ‘red-line’ issue, all stakeholders agree that the new deal ensures labour peace at a period when the country’s economy shows encouraging signs of recovery and stabilisation.

Work stoppage of nurses in emergency departments

Nurses in the emergency departments of state-run hospitals stopped work for two hours on 27 September, in protest at the government’s inaction after 12 attacks on nurses since January 2017. Their decision to protest was sparked by a violent attack on nurses in the emergency department at Nicosia General Hospital on 23 September. The offender was not arrested.

The General Secretary of the Trade Union of Nurses (PASYNO), said nurses’ patience had come to an end. The nurses’ decision was not only addressed at the government, but aimed to raise public awareness that nurses have to deal with such incidents while also facing extra work in emergency departments due to understaffing.

PASYNO added that it had warned the ministries of health and of justice that employees in public hospitals do not work in a safe environment, and that the government had not responded to its proposals for tackling the issue. PASYNO says it is calling on the public to realise that nurses are not responsible for poor conditions in the emergency departments, but that they are the ones being called to account by the public.

The nurses’ stoppage was supported by other health trade unions; the nurses’ branch of the Cyprus Civil Servants’ Trade Union (PASYDY), the Pancyprian Union of Public Doctors (PASYKI) and the Pancyprian Association of Nurses and Midwives (PASYNM). PASYNΜ also warned that it will report the inability of the state to tackle the issue to all international bodies of nurses and midwives, and will take the case to the institutions of the European Union.

The Minister of Health, Dr George Pamboridis, agreed there needed to be changes to safety measures at state hospitals and emergency departments. Dr Pamboridis said that he had received explicit directives by President Anastasiades to ensure the safety and well-being of health employees in public hospitals. He added that the ministry has zero tolerance towards violence and that it is ready to employ private security companies to work with the police in order to tackle violent incidents.

Commentary

It seems that the austerity measures taken due to the crisis, such as the employment freeze in the public sector, combined with the overcrowding in state hospitals due to increased poverty levels, have had a domino effect on the well-being of health employees, and on the quality of health services.

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