WORKERS in the construction industry – one of the sectors most badly hit from recession – are due to strike today and tomorrow island-wide because employers are not taking any action to protect their jobs, unions SEK, PEO and DEOK have said.
“The strike will take place because for three years now, employees are being fired, are forced to join the queues at unemployment offices… and are being replaced with cheap labour,” the unions said in a joint announcement read out during a news conference yesterday.
The unions said there were some 10,000 workers hailing from the EU who “are unorganised” and are not part of collective agreements that tend to guarantee better benefits for employees.
However, PEO’s Michalis Papanicolaou said that in 2008, shortly before the construction and real estate sectors started shrinking after unsustainable growth, “there may have been even more [EU workers]”.
Some 46,000 people are employed in the sector, roughly the same number of people as in 2008, the unions said yesterday.
Numbers have remained stable because projects have shifted to more labour-intensive ones rather than say roadworks that require fewer workers, Papanicolaou said.
And the unions conceded that in 2008, the labour ministry stopped issuing work permits to third-country nationals who were seeking employment in the construction sector, effectively guaranteeing more jobs for Cypriots and other EU workers.
But SEK’s Yiannakis Ioannou said the unions have been pushing for stricter control on the industry and have proposed the creation of a committee to regulate the sector in all districts, issuing licences to prospective employees.
“We do not have the right to impose barriers on EU workers, but we have the right to support policies formed on correct criteria,” Ioannou said.
Some 1,506 construction workers were registered as unemployed in December last year, from a total of 41,625 of registered jobless. The unions said yesterday that at least 6,000 construction workers have no job.
Unemployment is expected to reach 13.8 per cent this year and peak at 14.2 per cent in 2014 before dropping a year later. The construction industry continues shrinking with cement sales falling, given a lower demand for concrete. The property bubble burst in 2009, following four years that that saw prices triple.
The unions were due to meet with labour minister Sotiroulla Charalambous yesterday afternoon as the cement makers warned that a strike might be a death blow to the struggling industry.