ECONOMY

Cyprus hotel strike looms

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cyprus trade union leaders threatened crippling strike action across the Mediterranean holiday island’s hotel sector yesterday unless workers’ demands on pay and conditions are met within 10 days. The threat to disrupt the summer breaks of hundreds of thousands of mainly northern European tourists came after marathon talks between hoteliers and union chiefs on a new collective agreement broke down on Thursday night. Hotel staff now seem determined to disrupt the peak holiday period as a persuasive bargaining tool. «If time is not found to continue a dialogue to reach an agreement, we will take strike measures on August 16,» union leader Nicos Epistithiou told state radio. «Employers have not offered any counterproposals or entered into any substantive dialogue,» he complained. A key stumbling block is the employers’ insistence that starting wages be reduced. The unions say pay for those entering the industry is already low and accuse hoteliers of seeking to squeeze out higher-paid Cypriot staff so that they can hire cheaper non-union labour from Eastern Europe. Since Cyprus joined the European Union on May 1, along with nine other countries mainly from Eastern Europe, the hotel industry has seen an influx of workers from fellow new members like Poland and Slovakia. The hotel owners insist they are being reasonable and constructive and complain that the unions are not willing to meet them halfway. «A strike will have catastrophic consequences for the industry and the economy as a whole,» said the Cyprus hoteliers’ association spokesman Zacharias Ioannides. «This is during the peak season when many tourist and locals go on holiday and we can’t afford another crisis,» he said. More than 2.5 million tourists visit Cyprus each year, more than half from Britain and most of the rest from other EU countries. Tourism is a key economic sector, contributing 20 percent of the island’s GDP and generating more than 2 billion dollars in revenues. Tourist arrivals dipped some 25 percent between 2001 and 2003, with the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, last year’s US-led invasion of Iraq and the global economic slowdown held largely responsible. Figures for 2004 show an upturn of around 10 percent in arrivals for the first six months but any strike action could jeopardize the fledgling recovery.