We await to see the Labour Minister’s vision in practice

We await to see the Labour Minister’s vision in practice

Article by Sotiroula Charalambous – General Secretary of the class-based trade union federation of PEO

26 March 2023

On Tuesday, 21 March 2023, the new Minister of Labour had his first meeting with the Parliamentary Labour Committee, where he presented the vision and priorities of his Ministry. He said that his vision is focused on two pillars: social cohesion and economic growth. In setting out his priorities, Mr. Panagiotou identified 5 priorities: ensuring labour peace, regulating the working environment, ensuring fair and adequate remunerations, safety and health, dignity at work.

Because titles remain titles if they are not given the necessary content and because in recent years in Cyprus the achievement of growth has not automatically led to cohesion in society, it is of great importance to look at the content.

Let us start with some assumptions. Those who have paid the cost of the crisis are the working people and the vulnerable groups of the population. Capital incomes have increased by 41% over the last 10 years, while working people’s incomes, in a period when we have had (since 2015) high growth rates, have increased by just 6%. In short, Cyprus has become a country with wider and deeper social inequalities instead of a more cohesive country.

In order for the concepts of labour peace, dignified work, social cohesion and all that the Minister of Labour has announced as objectives of the new government not to remain empty talk and slogans, specific decisions are needed that lead to a minimum social balance, to a re-regulation of labour relations, to the re-establishment of employment conditions regulated by collective agreements.

And to be more specific the following need to be pursued:

On the issue of the Automatic Cost of Living Allowance (COLA), the new Minister of Labour needs to take immediate action and submit a proposal for delivering the COLA, based on its philosophy as provided for in the Transitional Agreement.

On the issue of the strategy for the employment of third-country workers, the processing of applications under the new strategy must be frozen. We should be invited by the Minister to a dialogue with a view to establishing regulations that do not undermine collective agreements and do not turn foreign workers into a mechanism for cheap labour. We recall that the decree in question was issued a few days before the presidential elections without any consultation with the trade unions and suits the employers’ interests perfectly.

Amendments should be made to the decree on the minimum wage, with the aim of making it a genuine framework for guaranteeing minimum rights for workers who are not protected by trade unions. Corrections must be made to the decree, starting with the hourly rate of the minimum wage and adding provisions to ensure basic labour rights for the workers it covers. That is to say, working hours, overtime compensation, regulated public holidays, the 13th month salary. Putting off any discussion for a year leaves the door open for the continued acute exploitation of a section of working people, primarily young people.

Another priority, which is also linked to the European Directive on the minimum wage, is for the Ministry of Labour to elaborate a comprehensive plan of action to expand the coverage of workers by collective agreements. In this direction, the Ministry of Labour needs to make arrangements to ensure that the basic terms of sectoral Collective Agreements are applied by all employers in the sector. This is the only effective measure to stop the erosion of the scope of Collective Agreements, to limit the devaluation of labour and unfair competition between similar enterprises. It is the only mechanism for achieving the objectives of securing fair, satisfactory pay and dignity at work.

In the area of pension reform, we note the Minister’s reference to an actuarial study on the 12% penalty [on those choosing to retire at 63]. This issue needs to be made a priority and employers, trade unions, self-employed workers, i.e. those who participate in the social insurance system, need to be invited to a dialogue with a view to finding balanced solutions, the central theme being that contributors cannot be penalised when, after many years of work and contributions, they exercise their right to retire at the age of 63.

The elections are over. The problems of working people remain and are growing due to expensiveness/the high cost of living and rising interest rates. We expect concrete actions. This is where the new government will be judged – by the content it gives to what it proclaims. That’s precisely what we will do.