The recent tragic death of a Romanian mother in front of her 5 year old son in conditions of extreme poverty has reignited discussions on the role of Community workers in Cyprus.
Let me start by saying how saddened I am by this tragedy. Unfortunately, most of the discussion is about the nationality of the victim and not the shear fact that is constitutes a tragedy and a failure of our society.
As most of the current discussions are based on “feelings” rather than facts, I was reminded of an article that was first published in Phileleftheros newspaper on Sunday – Jan 15th 2012 where some of the facts are highlighted.
I copy below the full article as it was first published.
19.01.2012 Article by the Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Cyprus, Ms Androulla Kaminara, as published in the newspaper “O Phileleftheros” on Sunday, 15 January 2012.
The Head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus Mrs Androulla Kaminara, evaluates the role, importance and contribution of Community workers in the Cypriot economy and clearly tilted the balance in favour of their presence here. In an interview in the Financial “Fileleftheros” daily, Mrs Kaminara analyses how the labour market diversified in our country after it joined the single European market, the new perspectives that have been created and new opportunities and possibilities presented.
– Community workers are in Cyprus on the basis of the main European principle of free movement of services, capital, goods and people. The application of this principle benefits the entire European Union. This is what the single market means in simple terms. Precisely because of this policy it is estimated that three million additional jobs have been created. By applying this principle, every individual European citizen is estimated to have a financial benefit of around Euro 550 per year. European nationals working in Cyprus are mainly employed by 17% in construction and in trade, by 13% in the food industry and by 11% in health and other services. As demonstrated by the recent population census, the four European countries with most nationals in Cyprus are Greece (31,000), the United Kingdom (26,000), Romania (24,000) and Bulgaria (19,000). We can see positively or negatively community workers? Where is the truth?
The numbers speak for themselves. Overall unemployed persons in Cyprus today are around 33,000. Non-Cypriot European citizens working in Cyprus are approximately 60,000 to 65,000. Even if we assume that Cypriot unemployed persons would like to have jobs currently occupied by Community workers, which does not apply, there would be another 35,000 posts unfilled. This would create a huge problem for the Cypriot economy. We would have a serious lack of manpower. But it is worth seeing where Community workers work and if Cypriots would like to work in these jobs. This may be true only in very few cases and not in the vast majority of these jobs. Especially as regards Bulgarian and Romanian workers, employed primarily in construction and agriculture.
Since Community workers participate in generation of wealth, and contribute to the development of the Cypriot economy. Is this contribution measurable?
As I said before, we have 60,000 to 65,000 European citizens working legally in Cyprus, paying taxes, contributing to national funds. And this is a tremendous contribution to our economy. Let’s not forget that Cyprus faces a major problem of low birth rate. And without foreigners this problem would be even bigger. Foreign workers make contributions to the Social Insurance Fund that help maintain the whole pension scheme covering Cypriot as well as non Cypriot citizens who work here. Therefore they help substantially with their work, their contribution to the national funds but also their contribution to reduce birth shortage.
Has the Cypriot economy in general, i.e. the public and private sector, made use of the opportunities provided by the EU for the creation and development of new productive sectors?
The answer to this question is “yes”. Surely the Cypriot economy as a whole made use of the possibilities offered by the EU. And before the effects of global recession in the Cyprus economy the performance was very good. We had a share in European wealth and the three million new jobs but also in the amount of Euro 500 per European citizen per year. So in that sense, we certainly put to use the opportunities of the EU. However I would like to refer to Cypriot companies that pay Community workers below the contractually agreed rate and do not hire Cypriots in their jobs. This constitutes a violation of European law that prevents discrimination between European workers. And Cypriot businessmen are the ones who violate legislation against Cypriot and Community workers. They unduly increase their profits by taking advantage of community workers, who are paid with less money, and at the same time they do not pay the contributions due to national funds.
Do Cypriot businesses make sufficient use of European data and possibilities?
Exports of Cypriot products have gone up; the service industry in our country has benefited very much from it. Interest has grown both by other Europeans and by citizens of third countries who want access to the united Europe through Cyprus. Many, such as Russians and others, use the services of Cyprus precisely because we belong to the EU so to operate in our territory opens them more doors across Europe. The numbers are weighted in our favour.
What is the situation regarding Cypriots working as Community workers in the rest of the united Europe?
If European citizens working in another Member State other than their own enjoy protection, that protection applies to the many more Cypriots working in other European countries. In the UK there are 200,000 Cypriot workers and another 30,000 in Greece; and only a total 112,000 European non-Cypriot citizens live in Cyprus. Therefore the numbers are again in our favour.
Community workers deprive domestic workforce from posts. Can safeguards be applicable in this respect?
Only in three European countries are there restrictions on free movement of persons, specific to the employment of Romanians and Bulgarians. Partial restrictions exist also in seven other European countries. These commitments were set from the beginning, when these countries were negotiating their accession to the EU. These restrictions, in accordance with the relevant EU treaties can be applied seven years maximum, i.e. they are valid only as a transitional phase. We did not raise any restriction issue when these countries were negotiating their accession to the EU and in my view rightly so. As I explained before, even if we did not have community workers, and even if all unemployed Cypriots had jobs we would again have 35,000 posts vacant and we would have a huge problem as whole sectors of the Cypriot economy would have collapsed.
About 40% of foreigners who work in Cyprus, Community and non-Community workers, are employed as domestic helpers. Until recently, only four Cypriots were officially registered as unemployed domestic helpers. In this sector around 25,000 people are employed. So we have a demand for 25,000 people and a supply of 4 people. Competition in the labor market is now much larger. But we cannot ignore all the other good things that result from our accession in the single European market and focus only on this aspect.
On the other hand, in the negotiations on the Cyprus issue, we invoke these four basic freedoms of movement of services, capital, goods and persons, which must also be respected after the solution of the Cyprus problem. Therefore we cannot, by ourselves, ask for a restriction of these freedoms for Community workers who come to our country.