Speech of the new General Secretary of the General Council of PEO Sotiroula Charalambous to the 28 PEO Congress, 10 December 2021

Speech of the new General Secretary of the General Council of PEO Sotiroula Charalambous to the 28 PEO Congress, 10 December 2021

Brothers and Sisters,

Delegates to the 28th Pancyprian Congress of PEO,

Permit me first to express from the podium of the 28th Pancyprian Congress of PEO my gratitude to the newly elected General Council of PEO for the honor of electing me as the new General Secretary of our Organization.

I thank all the members of the General Council whether they voted for me or not there is no doubt that the common link of us all is our genuine affection for PEO, for our Organisation’s present, future and perspective.

I feel the need in assuming this honorary position to address our brothers and sisters Turkish Cypriots with whom we share common visions and common goals.

For years we have together built a strong and cohesive front of struggle, which even in the most critical and difficult moments for the relations between the two communities has not broken. This front has not been broken because we are united by our common roots, the roots of the working class. We not only have an obligation to maintain this front, but we will work to make it even stronger because it is the only solid force that can break the deadlocks and give our country a perspective.

At the same time, I want to stress that our struggle here is not separate from the struggles being waged by the international progressive class-oriented trade union movement. We will continue to march forward with a clear orientation, consistently together with the struggles of working people all over the world, against policies that make the poor poorer and the rich richer, against oppression and discriminations. Within the ranks of PEO, with all the strength we have at our disposal, we shall work for the empowerment, rallying and joint action of working people.

I am fully aware of the weight of responsibility I am assuming. The first reason is that I am doing so at a time which can be said to be particularly decisive for working people, for the course of labour relations and the prospects for the trade union organisation of workers.

For over two years we have been in the midst of a pandemic which has led to a series of decisions affecting both working people’s jobs and lives.

Capital will try today too to use fear, insecurity and anxiety about the future – elements that were used during the recent economic crisis to intensify the deregulation of labour, to extend cheap labour without trade union protection – to consolidate and deepen deregulation.

Our Congress has given a very clear mandate to the new General Council. The continuation of our efforts to introduce regulations through which minimum wages and basic benefits for all workers will be implemented is our first and main priority.

We have attached a very specific content to this objective. This means intensifying and completing the process of introducing legislation so that the agreed minimum recruitment levels in sectoral collective agreements and the basic terms of contracts should be applied to all working people, as well as for those working people not covered by a collective agreement, a tripartite mechanism should be established which again through negotiation will discuss and come up with a minimum wage and other basic terms.

The adoption of a horizontal national minimum wage, without the state introducing institutional measures to encourage and support the procedure of collective bargaining and its result, creates serious dangers of a wage levelling and the violation of collective agreements.

It must be fully understood by all of the militants of PEO here that the struggle ahead of us will not be easy. Constant enlightenment and participation of working people, both organized and unorganized, in this struggle, information and discussion with political parties and other bodies is needed to make our positions and concerns understood. Steadfastness, perseverance and consistency to our positions at the social dialogue table are also demanded.

Our message is crystal clear. We will struggle for regulations that will be in favour of all workers, that will put a brake on the undermining of collective agreements and promotion of personal contracts, that will guarantee dignified work with regulated rights for all, that will create preconditions for all workers to co-operate and organise all working people, given that everyone will yield tangible positive results from these regulations.

Our Congress just a short while ago gave us clear guidelines for many other issues. For continuing and intensifying the struggle against the inhuman and humiliating practice for workers of the purchase of services and the outsourcing of services. For preventing the use of so-called new forms of employment such as teleworking, which has recently been is being projected as the ideal option for working people as yet another mechanism for cheap deregulated work.

● For the improvement of wages and conditions of employment in such a way as to improve the distribution of national income to the benefit of workers.

● For the full restoration of the Automatic Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) and its universal concession to workers.

● For the abolition of the 12% penalty for those opting to retire at 63 and for the progressive modernisation of the pension system, ensuring dignity for our pensioners, which they deserve and we owe them.

● For a progressive reorganisation of social policy in a way that provides effective support to working women, pensioners, young people and vulnerable groups.

● For even greater promotion of measures to combat inequality and discrimination at work.

● For the defence of every worker’s right to work in safety and health.

● For a tax reform that takes the burden off the many and taxes the rich and which does not lead to new flat taxes.

We have a responsibility to methodically elaborate the ways and actions to fulfill in practice the mandate given to us by our Congress.

At the same time, we must prepare for new emerging issues.

Digitalisation and its increasing penetration into the production process, as well as the transition to a green and circular economy, are creating new conditions for work which we need to study in order to ensure that these changes are not used as yet another means for marginalising work and reducing its value.

Brothers and sisters,

I do not think that in this first statement I need to refer to all the issues we will face before us. I do, however, feel it necessary to refer to what is a precondition and guarantee for achieving our objectives, and that is none other than the momentum we draw from the organisation and rallying of working people’s forces.

We have to admit that organising and joining the trade union movement is not something given that we should take for granted and as something self-evident these days. Intimidation, insecurity, the mechanisms of manipulation of working people, the influence of individualism, the targeted cultivation by the ruling political and economic elite of contempt towards trade unionism and the disorientation of workers by the promotion of false dilemmas within the ranks of the working class, all create an environment that makes it difficult for the growth and development of trade union organisation, especially our penetration into new sectors of the economy, among young workers and immigrants.

We need to work methodically and in a coordinated way, using all the tools we have at our disposal and introduce new methods to reach out to workers who are not organised in trade unions, especially the youth, so we can work for our organisational counterattack.

We need to make even more use of the laws for the recognition of the organisation of working people and for the protection of workers’ representatives.

We need to give clear and understandable examples to working people in the arena of struggle, through our daily trade union activity, about the role of organisation as a mechanism for protecting workers from employer arbitrariness and improving workers’ lives. It is here in the field of struggle that we can convince we are not all the same and that we are different, but it is also here in the arena of daily action that we will impose joint action. We should create mechanisms of information, support and guidance for those working people who are do not have trade union cover and who have questions and problems about their working environment. We should strengthen the mechanisms for providing benefits and support to our working members through the Welfare Funds.

We should project objectives and demands that all working people relate to, refuting the argument deliberately cultivated by those forces and circles who want to keep working people far away from trade union organization and that we supposedly don’t care about workers not covered by trade unions.

We should further strengthen working people’s mass participation, develop a two-way dialogue with working people and promote accountability by making more visible in practice what we all say that the trade union is the worker at every workplace.

Brothers and Sisters,

I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that I am fully aware of the weight of responsibilities I am assuming, bearing in mind the many and extremely important struggles that lie ahead of us.

But my awareness of the enormous task I am taking on also stems from the fact that I am succeeding in the leadership of our Organisation a comrade who, by his presence at the helm of PEC, is leaving a very significant legacy and a bar that has been set very high

Comrade Pambis assumed the position of General Secretary of PEO at a time when PEO needed to reaffirm its character and identity as the leading class-oriented trade union organisation in the country, at a time when we had to redefine our goals and priorities.
In the 23 years of his leadership of our Organisation, the working people and the movement have faced unprecedented situations. The battle to defend the COLA under the Clerides government, the struggles against the privatization of Larnaca airport, against the privatization of semi-governmental organizations, the financial crisis of 2013, the imposition of the Memorandum, austerity measures, the reform of the social insurance system and the pandemic are just some of the issues I can bring to mind that we were called upon to confront under his leadership.
Clarity of thought and orientation, steadfastness in objectives, but at the same time also flexibility in the handling of issues, rationality combined with our vision, his ability to understand the demands of the times on workers and to translate them into goals for assertion, a collective attitude and style of work, trust, honesty and sincere accountability to those for whom we are here are the elements that comrade Pambis has left us.
With Pambis we felt confident, solid. As a person who has worked with him for over the 23 years he has been in the ranks of PEO I feel the need to say something else, about comrade Pambis: his ability to feel and understand people, to forge comradely and humane relationships with his comrades, to support and guide trade union cadres and militants, to prepare cadres. Comrade Pambis never let anyone off the hook, but never acted in a leveling way towards anyone.
I am sure I express everyone’s appreciation and gratitude towards comrade Pambis for his 23 years of firm leadership of our Organization.
The new General Council will find a way and the time to more fully express our gratitude to comrade Pambi.
On my part I will just say one thing, the experience and thinking of comrade Pambi is still needed today for the new leadership of PEO so rest assured that we will continue to consult him.
We come from afar, brothers and sisters.
We are part of an Organization that has a history spanning 80 years. Our veterans have handed us a huge legacy identified with the political, social, trade union history of our country.
This heritage justifiably fills us with pride, but it is not enough to move forward. We all need to add to this legacy our own mark; the mark that we will leave behind.
All of us, both full-time and voluntary militants and I personally, with the responsibility of the position I am assuming, must stand up, roll up our sleeves and get to work.
We will march forward with determination, with the 80 years of our history and struggles as a legacy.
We must continue the struggle so that the division and partition of Cyprus are not the future of the working people of our homeland.
We must continue the struggle for work with dignity and rights. For a society without exploitation, poverty and wars, because the only goal of our struggle is to secure the happiness of those who build life with their labour, intellectual and manual labour.
They are the ones we are called upon to serve and to them we are all accountable.