NICOSIA – Thousands of workers walked off the job in Cyprus on Thursday in a standoff with employers over their demand for inflation-linked salary increases, in the first broad mobilisation in decades.
Twelve public and private sector unions called the three-hour work stoppage, which started at 1000 GMT. It affected all but essential services in the public sector and caused flight delays at the island’s airports.
Unionised workers are demanding full restoration of a wage indexation system, the Cost of Living Allowance (CoLA), which uses the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a benchmark for wage adjustments.
General strikes in Cyprus are rare, and Thursday’s action comes days before a presidential election on Feb. 5. Employer groups have long campaigned for changes to the way CoLA, first introduced in 1944, is calculated.
The last time workers took to the streets over CoLA was in the 1990s.
“We want to send a clear message that we will neither accept dismantling or erosion of this system,” said Stratis Matheou, head of the PASYDY civil servants union.
Inflation was running at 8.4% between January and December 2022, marking the fastest pace of price increases on the island in four decades. Unions say employers are offering 4.34%.
CoLA was frozen in 2013, when Cyprus was shaken by a financial crisis which required an international bailout. A transition agreement in 2017, which offered employees 50% of the CoLA increment, expired in December 2022.
An estimated 45%-50% of the workforce who are unionised, in the vast majority public sector workers, are covered by the system.