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Unions threaten all-out strike
UNIONS warned yesterday that the ongoing builders strike, which is entering its ninth day, could escalate into an all-out general strike if employers did not show signs they was ready to deal.
While they voiced their readiness to talk, unions also warned that things could get worse if the matter was not resolved soon.
“We are warning of the danger of labour peace exploding because of the builders’ strike,” said right-wing union SEK’s boss Nicos Moiseos.
Moiseos said yesterday his union had decided how to react but it would not announce anything, in order to give the labour minister time to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.
Earlier in the day, Pambis Kyritsis, the leader of left-wing PEO union, said it was certain there would be an escalation if the other side did not show any signs that it was ready to reconcile.
“Other sectors will join the mobilisation, in support of the builders’ strike, which could take the form of a general strike,” Kyritsis said.
The labour minister is trying to mediate between the workers and employers in a bid to put an end to the construction strike, on its eighth day yesterday.
Following a meeting with Minister Sotiroulla Charalambous yesterday afternoon, the two sides voiced their readiness to return to the negotiating table to find a solution.
“We have been exploring the potential of bringing the two sides in range for an agreement,” Charalambous said. “When we are ready and have something more concrete we will announce it. Exploratory contacts are underway and our aim is to resolve this problem as soon as possible.”
Builders went on strike eight days ago over job losses and insecurity in the sector.
Their unions have taken issue with the roughly 10,000 workers in their sector who hail from the EU, and are not part of collective agreements that guarantee better benefits for employees.
The chamber of commerce and industry (KEVE) and employers’ organisation OEV also said they were ready to talk.
“We all agree that this matter must come to a close as soon as possible because the country cannot take any economic turmoil,” KEVE secretary Marios Tsiakis said.
The climate was further worsened by circulars issued by KEVE and OEV during the week suggesting a pay freeze in the private sector.
This was also discussed during yesterday’s meeting with the minister who plans to call a meeting next week in a bid to iron out differences.
“Respect of labour relations is necessary if we want to behave properly and responsibly during the difficult conditions the country and the economy are going through,” Charalambous said.
OEV director Michalis Pilikos reiterated that the circular did not mean that a decision had been made to cut wages.
It said that “in cases where there is a problem the unions and the workers will be called to discuss what happens next,” Pilikos said.
KEVE’s Tsiakis said his organisation had recommended to businesses to give pay rises if they could, adding that the unions’ reaction to the circular was unwarranted.
In a related development, KEVE and OEV rejected a labour ministry proposal that gave the minister the power – under certain circumstances – to extend collective agreements in one part of a sector to all businesses in that sector.
“The ministry arrived at this suggestion after much deliberation and looking into what is happening in labour relations and the labour market in Cyprus, and what is happening in EU countries.”
Charalambous said the proposal aimed at tackling cases where collective agreements and their conditions were not followed by all businesses in one sector, resulting in unfair competition between workers and enterprises.