Hundreds of Cypriot state utility and port workers walked off the job on Friday over the government’s privatisation plans, in the first mass protest against the terms of an international bailout brokered almost a year ago.
Staff at Cyprus telecoms CyTA and the Cyprus Ports Authority called a 24-hour strike, and the electricity authority a 12-hour stoppage from 0700 local time (0500 GMT).
Electricity transmission operators said some rolling blackouts were likely.
Cyprus’s cabinet approved on Thursday a roadmap to privatise all three corporations. Under the terms of the bailout brokered with the EU and the IMF, the island nation must raise up to 1.4 billion euros from privatisations by 2018.
“Cyprus cannot be forced into fire sales of its assets in times of recession,» said Andreas Panorkos, a representative of electricity workers.
The protest was rare in a country which has seen little industrial or social unrest in response to a bailout whose terms were tough even by eurozone standards.
In return for 10 billion euros in aid which pulled it back from the brink of bankruptcy, Cyprus had to shut a major loss-making bank, and eat into depositors’ savings above 100,000 euros to salvage another.
Finance Minister Harris Georgiades said strike action risked undermining the good image Cyprus had with its lenders because of its commitment to face its economic problems head on.
The island has received plaudits for its economic adjustment, most recently on Tuesday, when a review found Cyprus had exceeded its targets.
Passage of the privatisation plan by parliament is necessary for Cyprus to receive the next tranche of aid worth 236 million. It was due to be discussed in parliament next week.
“We need to take this step not only to meet obligations with lenders, but also to attract investment,» Georgiades told the public broadcaster. Workers’ rights would in no way be affected, he said.