PRESIDENT Demetris Christofias has ordered a full investigation into the violent scuffles on Tuesday at a Paphos building site between striking builders and police, Justice Minister Loucas Louca said yesterday.
Trouble erupted in Paphos on Tuesday when police confronted striking builders who tried to stop strike-breakers who were brought in to take over the work at a hotel construction site.
Three people were arrested during the trouble on Posidonos Avenue. Police intervened in a bid to restore order, arresting two striking workers and a female union official in the process as both police and builders pushed and shoved each other.
Unions accused police of using excessive force, and Christofias later criticised the police for their actions.
“The President’s instructions are clear, and I am awaiting the report of the incident to uncover what really went on so we can act accordingly with the police,” Louca said yesterday. Asked what information he had received so far the minister replied that he did not want to rely on rumours but on the facts, and once he had the report in his hands he would be able to comment further.
Louca was asked by reporters whether police were planning to adopt new methods of dealing with an increase in incidents from protesters. “I have been informed by the chief of police that orders have been given for necessary action to be taken,” he replied. “We have discussed the subject so that we will not see a repeat of Tuesday’s incident,” he added.
Louca was also asked to comment on several small incidents that were reported in Ayia Napa yesterday of striking builders who had visited several sites with trade unionists, armed with bats, in attempts to bully strike-breakers and contractors who were continuing work.
“I am not aware of any incidents in the Ayia Napa area,” he said. “As far as I am aware the Chief of Police has given orders to members of the force on how to act appropriately in these cases,” he added.
Head of the Association of Cyprus Tourist Enterprises, Akis Vavlitis, and the Federation of Construction Contractors’ (OSEOK) representative Nicos Kelepeshis both claimed to state broadcast radio that striking workers and trade unionists ransacked and vandalised hotel construction sites in the Ayia Napa area yesterday.
“Members of both trade unions, PEO and SEK, armed with bats, stormed into hotels looking for strike-breakers,” Vavlitis said. “We are sending out a message abroad, that the strikes are adversely affecting the tourism industry, instead of trying to overcome the crisis,” he added.
Kelepeshis claimed police had received many complaints from hotel owners that striking workers had harassed them on yesterday morning.
PEO representative, Michalis Papanicolaou questioned the accusations, stating that the striking workers would continue their strike until they get what they deserved. “How did they know these people that ransacked the sites were from PEO?” he asked. “Did they ask them for identification?” he continued. “For the moment these workers have an uncertain future and they will continue striking until they receive assurances that their jobs are safe,” he concluded.
Yiannakis Ioannou, the head of SEK’s construction branch, claimed yesterday that both SEK and PEO had acted accordingly and had not committed any crimes.
Ioannou said builders had already agreed to cuts of around 8.0 per cent but contractors also wanted to reduce provident fund contributions by 3.0 per cent, cut Christmas bonuses by 50 per cent, and take away one day from the Easter holidays.
“All they [the workers] want is for the collective agreements to be met,” Ioannou said.
The ministry of labour would continue to actively search for a solution to the problem in the construction industry and will continue talking to both sides in order to resolve the issues, according to minister Sotiroulla Charalambous.
Charalambous said that during the attempt at reconciliation both sides had introduced new demands which had not been discussed before, making matters even more complicated.
Asked by reporters whether she felt that they had reached the point of no return, Charalambous said that she believed that with will and commitment, any solution would be a compromise.