President Christofias meeting with union leaders yesterday
THE government yesterday completed its proposals to international lenders - the troika - who will now be invited to Cyprus for negotiations with a view to coming to an agreement on a bailout package by November 12.
"In a short while, we will send the troika the complete proposals of the government and invite it to Cyprus to negotiate the support package to the Republic,” government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told reporters last night.
The announcement was made after President Demetris Christofias met union leaders in the last of a series of meetings the government held with unions, parties, employers and the Central Bank governor.
Stefanou said that the government had worked intensively so that Cyprus can achieve a support package that safeguards workers’ rights, protects vulnerable groups and gives economic prospects, Stefanou said.
The government proposals do not include scrapping the 13th salary or CoLA, the wage indexation system, which will be reformed.
The government proposes staggered cuts in the public payroll ranging from 6.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent and there is no mention of selling profitable semi-state companies.
The proposals are in response to recommendations made by the troika on July 25.
The troika has proposed salary cuts in a public service workforce which is one of the highest paid in the eurozone, pension reform, privatisations and the creation of a "bad bank" which will assume problem debt in the financial system.
“The package will have a cost,” Stefanou warned. “But our effort all this time was to draft a package of measures that would make it bearable, so that we will be able, with everyone’s contribution, to overcome the difficulties we face at this time.”
Cyprus must meet a November 12 deadline or face the possibility of running out of cash.
After November 12, the next meeting of the Eurogroup, it will take the parliaments of individual eurozone nations about six weeks to sanction the Cyprus memorandum.
The spokesman said there was enough time to negotiate and strike a deal before the deadline.
“We want to negotiate with honesty and determination to achieve the best possible result; close a deal with the troika as soon as possible,” Stefanou said.
The trade unions were yesterday offered some assurances in their meeting with President Demetris Christofias - such as the government’s intention not to scrap CoLA - but were warned there was little margin for changes in the troika’s demand for scaled wage cuts in the public sector.
According to state broadcaster CyBC’s sources last night, some changes were made to the government’s proposals in the meeting, but not to a great degree.
Christofias promised unionists he would create a special committee to handle the pensions matter, together with the unions, over the next two months.
He told the unions that there was little room to manoeuvre over the scaled pay cuts, but said the reductions would be considered as contributions, not cuts, so public servants’ pensions are not affected.
Unions claimed the new measures were unfair for new public sector recruits, as they would not see pay rises for years. Christofias said he would try to negotiate this with the troika.
Christofias assured public workers that the cost of living allowance (CoLA) would not be scrapped, but reformed.
For their part, the unions asked for tough negotiations with the troika, especially regarding workers’ 13th salaries, CoLA and their pensions.
They also voiced concern that after the memorandum was signed for the bailout, the troika may return seeking another austerity package.
Meanwhile, a proposal by SEK for the government to supply €30 million to support employment, especially among youths, was viewed positively by the president, who said there should be no problem in releasing the funds, once the bailout has been agreed.
Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly said the government was now ready to put together the 2013 budget and submit it to parliament soon.
The minister said the budget will include the measures prepared by the government and if necessary amend it accordingly depending on the negotiations with the troika.
However, DISY’s deputy president, Averof Neophytou, yesterday disagreed.
“For the measures to come to parliament there needs to be an agreement with the troika,” Neophytou told the Cyprus Mail. “In the end we will be left without a budget.”
Earlier yesterday, opposition leader and presidential candidate Nicos Anastassiades called on the government to get serious and stop dragging its feet.
“If we continue to delay thinking we are the ones playing with time … the results will be tragic for the country,” he said. “We cannot go on thinking we will either impose the conditions or the time.”
Responding to comments made by Christofias on Sunday in which he accused the banks of bearing the responsibility for the island’s economic problems, EDEK said it was sad for the president to engage in attacks against everyone instead of working on achieving the loan agreement before November 12.
Ruling AKEL chief Andros Kyprianou said Cyprus must act fast to meet the November 12 deadline and possibly be dealt with along with Spain and Greece.
“The finance ministry insists that we can make it within the set timeframe,” Kyprianou said. “We must move fast so that we make sure the Cypriot economy will be judged with the Spanish and Greek economies.