Development of Trade Unionism
Cyprus has a long tradition in the development of voluntary procedures that govern the operation of a healthy industrial relations system.
Of course this fact cannot hide the appalling conditions prevailing at the beginning of the previous century when the first labour movements began. Up till 1930 there where no worker unions worth mentioning, whilst the term "workers rights" was virtually non-existent. Conditions of employment of workers resembled more slavery than fair work with pay, something which was indicative of complete lack of organised trade unions.
Even though there were a number of worker mobilizations during this period, these uprising efforts failed due to them being suppressed by the Colonial British government. At the same time, any efforts to create serious labour movements, that could effectively promote and safeguard worker rights, also faced the strong opposition of the British ruling.
The first Trade Union Law was voted into law in 1932, leading to the appointment of the first Trade Union Registrar. With this development the registration of trade unions became obligatory. This though did not mean that the Colonial government had changed in any way its stance towards organised worker groups, since five years after the enforcement of the new Law, there was only one registered trade union. It is obvious that the restrictions laid out in the Law, were unsurmountable, whilst at the same time the stance held by the British against trade unions remained unchanged.
By 1939, the number of registered trade unions increased significantly (over 30). These trade unions lacked any coordination amongst them - a fact that erroded any power they could gather.
In November 1939, the first unsuccessful effort to merge, or atleast to increase cooperation amongst trade unions, took place in the form of the First Pancyprian Trade Union Conference.
In 1941, a second Conference was organised, resulting in the establishment of the Pancyprian Trade Union Committee (PSE). This Committee was later transformed into the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO), one of the main trade unions active till today.
In the same year the Colonial government eased some of the existing restrictions by amending the Trade Union Law, thus providing new freedoms and rights. These amendments can now be seen as the starting point for the further development of trade unionism in Cyprus.
1944 sees the establishment of the Cyprus Workers Confederation (SEK), which required six long years for its application to register as a trade union, to be approved by the Registrar of Trade Unions. In 1948, an important new development takes place, with the establishment of the Labour Advisory Board - a tripartite body of social dialogue. The Labour Advisory Board still plays a commanding role in the area of industrial relations, whilst its role also extends into the more general area of formulation of employment policies.
From 1950 onwards, trade unionism continues to develop at a rapid rate. In 1954, the Pancyprian Federation of Turkish Trade Unions is established, whilst throughout the 1950's a large number of independent trade unions are also established. These independent trade unions were mainly focused towards representing employees in semi-government organisations, whilst at the same time the trade unionism in the public sector also experiences rapid development with the establishment of the Pancyprian Union of Public Servants (PASYDY), the Pancyprian Organisation of Greek Teachers (POED), the Organisation of Greek Secondary Education Teachers (OELMEK), etc. In 1956 the Union of Banking Employees of Cyprus is registered as a trade union, and remains till today the sole representative of workers in the banking sector.
With the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, in 1960, the Constitution explictly safeguarded the right to organise and the right to bargain collectively, whilst with the ratification of ILO Convention No. 87 on the Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise, and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, all these rights acquired legal stature.
In 1965 a new Trade Unions Law is enforced, providing extensive protection and total freedom for the registration of trade unions (according to specific requirements laid out in the Law). Also in 1962 the Cyprus Democratic Labour Federation (DEOK) is established, and becomes active as a trade union after its re-establishment in April of 1982.
Even though the Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) was established in 1927, employer representation with a view to safeguarding their rights in the area of industrial relations, did not materialise until 1959, with the establishment of the Employers Consultative Association of Cyprus. In 1970 this association was renamed to the Cyprus Employers Federation, whilst in 1980 it was again renamed to the Employers and Industrialists Federation (OEB).
Today both OEB and the CCCI actively participate in industrial relations in Cyprus, representing the interests of their members.
Development of Industrial Relations in Cyprus
It must be stressed before the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, there were no developed procedures or practices for conflict resolution of labour disputes. The non-existence of such practices was mainly due to the insufficient representation of employers' and workers' organisations.
Due to this, the disruption of industrial peace was a very common occurrence. Industrial unrest took the form of strikes and picketing, whilst it should be noted that with the current practices in the area of conflict resolution, such industrial action could have easily been avoided. A further noteworthy fact is that this industrial action very rarely did it lead to the required outcome, mainly due to the non-existence of clear procedures for collective bargaining and negotiations. In many occassions, negotiations actually took place after the cessation of industrial action, something that is opposite to normal procedures and practice.
After the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, industrial relations developed rapidly, building the foundation for the efficient cooperation of employers with employees.
In 1962, the Social Partners signed the so called Basic Agreement - a voluntary agreement - laying out procedures for the settlement of labour disputes
In 1977, the Basic Agreement was succeeded by the Industrial Relations Code - a gentlemans agreement signed by the social partners. The Industrial Relations Code is considered to be a landmark for the development of an efficient industrial relations system in Cyprus. The Industrial Relations Code is a voluntary agreement (not legally enforceable) that till today lays out the procedures to be followed for the settlement of labour disputes, and the procedures to be followed for arbitration, mediation, and public inquiry in disputes over interests and disputes over rights. For more information on the provisions of the Industrial Relations Code please press here.
The successful development of employees' and employers' organisations was the key factor in the success of Cyprus' voluntary industrial relations system. The system is characterised by tripartite cooperation, freedom of speech, social dialogue, and collective bargaining. Since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, governments have remained steadfast to the policy of fostering strong employers' and employees' organisations, with a view to achieving a balance of power between the two sides.
In line with this philosophy the Department of Labour Relations, after the accession of Cyprus to the EU, worked consistently with a view to modernizing and updating procedures and practices in industrial relations, but at the same time maintaining the voluntary nature of the system itself. For more details regarding the modernization of the industrial relations system, please press here.