Cyprus: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

The dispute between the Government and the State Institutes of Further Education over teachers’ employment status and the Limassol bus drivers’ 48 hour strike are the main topics of interest of this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Cyprus in the first quarter of 2018.

Teachers protest over employment status 

Teachers in the State Institutes of Further Education (KIE) launched industrial action in protest against their self-employed status. The teachers, who were state employees until 2013, are unhappy with the impact of the change, and regard it as an attack on employment rights.

On 15 January 2018, the State Institutes of Further Education organised a three-hour work-stoppage, to draw attention to the detrimental consequences of the measure on annual leave and school holiday allowances and on the right to conclude a collective agreement. A stakeholder meeting followed on 19 January to address teachers’ concerns. Undersecretary to the President Vasilis Palmas led the talks, attended by the Minister of Education and representatives of sectoral trade unions (PEO, SEK, PASYPAE KIE, PASEEKYP and OPEPOS). The Minister requested two months to review the matter and to negotiate with all sides.

On 24 January 2018, the Cabinet set up an inter-ministerial group to study the teachers' concerns. On 5 April (after some delay), the Minister issued revised proposals, offering compensatory pay for teachers, while stopping short of granting employee status. His proposals have not gone far enough to satisfy teachers and, although another meeting is expected soon, further industrial action seems inevitable.

The change to self-employment status affected approximately 5,000 teachers and was introduced in 2013 as part of a package of economic reforms.

Limassol bus drivers in 48-hour strike

Limassol bus drivers held a 48-hour strike during 21–22 March 2018, after the bus company (EMEL) refused to reintroduce a collective agreement. The sectoral trade unions and EMEL agreed to suspend the implementation of the collective agreement in 2013 due to the economic crisis. However, following negotiations, the agreement was set to be restored on 1 January 2017. Bus drivers’ had been threatening strikes since February 2018 as a result of the delay. Nevertheless, EMEL has claimed it cannot afford to implement the collective agreement due to Government cuts of 2013, and has called on the Ministry of Transport, Communication and Public Works to increase its subsidies.

At a meeting after the strike, bus drivers authorised their unions to negotiate with the company and the Ministry in order to reach an agreement. Meanwhile, the Minister of Transport, Ms Vasiliki Anastasiadou appealed to all stakeholders to continue the talks. It is clear, however, that nothing short of the reintroduction of the collective agreement will prevent further industrial action.

Commentary

The austerity measures, which followed the economic crisis, have continued to weaken workers’ rights, benefits and terms of employment across many sectors of the labour market. The KIE teachers’ case is an example of structural discrimination and unequal treatment, since their change in employment status means they enjoy fewer rights and benefits than primary and secondary school teachers, who are similarly qualified and perform similar jobs.

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