SEK proposes legally binding collective agreements
In November 2003, the Cyprus Workers' Confederation (SEK) called for the contents of collective agreements to be made legally binding. Agreements are currently voluntary in nature and SEK believes that this will cause problems after Cyprus joins the EU in May 2004.
On 11 November 2003, the Cyprus Workers' Confederation (SEK) - one of Cyprus’s two largest trade union organisations, with 65,032 registered members in 2001 - reiterated to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security its long-standing demand for the content of collective agreements to become legally binding.
The background to this demand is that the system of industrial relations in Cyprus is similar to that prevailing in the UK - ie it operates on a voluntary basis and there is a substantial lack of statutory regulation. In this context, collective agreements are binding only in 'honour', and not in law. In practice, however, the social partners demonstrate a high degree of social responsibility by faithfully observing the provisions of agreements, and this renders the existing system effective.
However, in SEK’s view, Cyprus’s process of accession to the European Union, entailing in particular freedom of movement, establishment and employment in Cyprus for workers from elsewhere, mainly from other accession countries, makes it imperative that the existing system of industrial relations be revised and adapted to the new conditions. SEK believes that the lack of legally binding status for the content of collective agreements will create serious problems regarding their implementation, at the expense of both Cypriot workers and of people from other European countries seeking work in Cyprus.
In this context and in order to avoid social unrest and ensure equal treatment for workers, SEK proposes that collective agreements be adjusted so as to make them legally binding, if not in their entirety then at least with regard to the following basic terms and conditions of employment:
- earnings (including tips and cost-of-living allowances);
- working hours (including overtime and holidays); and
- social benefits (eg contributions to health and welfare funds).
Expressing its conviction that making the content of collective agreements collectively binding will guarantee the labour rights of Cypriot workers and prevent exploitation of foreign workers, SEK has appealed to the Minister of Labour and Social Security to take the matter forward without further delay and begin social dialogue on the subject of revising the existing industrial relations system before 1 May 2004, the date of Cyprus’s entry into the EU. The Ministry of Labour is examining SEK’s demand, and dialogue was set to begin on 12 February 2004.