(Adds comment by PEO union representative in tenth paragraph and reaction from a businessman in thirteenth paragraph)
By Stelios Orphanides
Limassol port workers voted on Wednesday in favour of continuing their strike even after parliament agreed to delay for a week the debate on the draft legislation for the ports commercialisation, a union spokesman said.
“There were 66 votes in favour and 22 against” continuing the strike, Andreas Georgiou of the independent union of Cyprus Ports Authority workers said in a telephone interview.
The reason workers voted in favour of continuing the strike is related to uncertainty over labour issues, he said, adding that comments made on Tuesday by the chairman of ruling DISY, Averof Neofytou, further angered staff.
Neofytou spoke of up to “30 people with cushy jobs” in reference to the striking workers at the port who could damage an entire economy.
In a subsequent telephone interview Neofytou said that his party is in favour of a law regulating strikes in essential services, just like AKEL and the Christofias government did in 2012 in the case of air traffic controllers.
Georgiou, the independent union spokesman said that strikers will service four container ships currently docked at the port, after doing so earlier with a cruise ship.
The number of workers at the Limassol port employed by the Cyprus Ports Authority is 140 and includes the shift staff.
On Tuesday, the Cyprus News Agency reported, citing Georgiou, that he was informed by the chairman of the of the House Transport Committee, Antonis Antoniou, that the debate and vote on the bill concerning the commercialisation of the ports operations was postponed for a week to March 31.
Glafkos Constantinou, who represents port workers, members of PEO, the union affiliated with AKEL, said on Monday that strikers want more assurances about their future status after private investors take over the port’s operations. He also cited the government’s 10.1 per cent share in the revenue from marine services agreed with Dubai Ports, as it was deemed “too low”.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Constantinou said that his union’s recommendation to continue to strike prevailed at the vote as all other unions asked workers to suspend the labour action, which angered Cyprus’s business world.
“Even if we delay (the parliament’s) vote, will this change anything until next week?,” Constantinou asked. “There’s no point in doing so. You either agree or disagree with the reasons you call a strike”.
The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Employers and Industrialist Federation slammed the unions for their decision to strike at the port, citing the impact it will have on the economy and asked the government and the parliament to regulate strikes in essential services by law. As the strike of nurses, members of the PASYNO union, entered its tenth day on Wednesday, unions of power producer Electricity Authority said their members will start an indefinite strike on April 6, which is likely to cause outages.
Yiannis Makriyiannis, the director of Biosun, a Limassol-based organic food trading company, said that the strike is already costing his business money.
“Few days ago, a ship with an order arrived at the port but because of the strike it could not unload her freight and left for Haifa,” Makriyiannis said. “The ship’s captain let us know that if the strike is called off in five days, he may unload our order, which includes perishable food in five days when his ship returns to Limassol. Otherwise, we will have to wait for another three weeks”.
Makriyiannis said that the strike is also upsetting the schedule of ships linking Cyprus to Greek ports on a regular, weekly basis. “This is causing delays, this means some of our orders will arrive days later than expected and this will impact distribution of retailers”.