NICOSIA — Thousands of workers in Cyprus, including government employees, teachers and builders walked off the job Thursday for an island-wide, three-hour work stoppage to protest what they claim is employers’ backpedaling on a deal for inflation-linked pay increases.
Some 14 trade unions representing a diverse range of workers from bus drivers to airport staff responded to a call by union bosses to stage the brief strike as a warning to employers and government mediators that they won’t accept any rollbacks on what they say they’re lawfully entitled to.
Hundreds of workers gathered in the capital, Nicosia, to march on the Labor Ministry demanding higher pay.
Some 22 flights in and out of the island’s two airports shuttling 4,000 passengers will be affected by the strike. Airport operator Hermes says most flights have been rescheduled around the work stoppage.
According to Labor Minister Kyriakos Koushos, the chasm between employers and unions representing workers is too wide for the outgoing government to broach before elections next month. The labor unrest will be a priority for the next administration that will take over in March.
The dispute revolves around the longstanding Cost of Living Adjustment granting workers pay raises intended to offset inflation. The deal was suspended following a 2013 financial crisis that brought the island to the brink of bankruptcy.
Employers and trade unions agreed in 2017 to eventually reinstate the deal in full, but starting at only half of pre-2013 levels determined by indicators measuring economic output.
Trade union bosses accuse employers of balking on the 2017 agreement, saying that workers are now trying to cope with high inflation that has cut deep into workers’ purchasing power, just as profits for businesses have grown.
Cyprus Employers & Industrialists Federation Chief Michalis Antoniou said employers are willing to hash out a deal that would increase salaries, but one that wouldn’t undercut the competitiveness of business. He said only about a fifth to a quarter of private-sector workers are entitled to a raise under the Cost of Living Adjustment.
Andreas Matsas, general secretary of the Cyprus Workers’ Confederation trade union told private TV channel Alfa that businesses can well afford the salary hikes amid increased profits.