Asylum seekers staged a protest in Nicosia on Tuesday to demand full access to the labour market, Stelios Marathovouniotis reports.
Starting their march from Solomou Square, the protesters first visited the Labour Ministry and from there went toe the EU House and then to Parliament.
They said that they want the government to give the access to jobs beyond farms and car washes in order to be able to provide for themselves and not rely on benefits.
According to the Refugee Law issued at the end of October 2018, asylum seekers are permitted to access the labour market one month after the submission of an asylum application.
Currently, asylum seekers have limited access to specific employment sectors as defined by the provisions of a Ministerial Decree.
According to information conveyed by the Labour Department in mid-2018, the permitted sectors are due to be revised and probably expanded. However, no such decision has been announced to date.
Permitted sectors and posts for asylum seekers:
The terms and conditions, including remuneration of the occupations in animal farming and agricultural sectors is regulated based on the Collective Agreement of Agriculture and Animal Farming. At present, the salary is €455 (gross) per month. Accommodation and food may be provided by the employer. The salary may increase up to €769 per month if the employee is considered to be skilled for the position, or if there is a specific agreement with a trade union.
However, according to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, “in practice, asylum seekers are employed as unskilled labourers and in businesses where there is no presence of unions. Therefore, their wages remain at minimum levels.”
There is no formal limitation on working hours. The standard remuneration for farms and agricultural jobs is set for 80 working hours per fortnight, spread over 6 working days a week.
According to the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, asylum seekers in Cyprus face significant obstacles in accessing the labour market. The major obstacles are the following:
- Low wages and lack of supplementary material assistance: This is particularly problematic for asylum seekers with families. Remuneration from employment in agriculture and animal farming is highly insufficient to meet the basic needs of a family. Labour conditions such as taking up accommodation at the place of work often lead to splitting up the family. These jobs are often offered to any single parent with children up to the age of two without taking into consideration the care of children or possible supplementary assistance for childcare support.
- Distance and lack of convenient transportation: Given the nature of employment that asylum seekers are permitted to take up, workplaces are often situated in remote rural regions and working hours may start as early as 4 or 5am. Asylum seekers have reported difficulties in commuting to these workplaces using low-cost transportation (e.g. public buses). Remuneration does not cover travel expenses.
- Lack of interest from employers in the agricultural and farming sectors in employing asylum seekers. In fact, many employers in these sectors often prefer to employ third-country nationals who arrive in the country with an employment permit and are authorised to work for a period up to 4 years.
- Lack of gender and cultural sensitivity in the recruitment procedure: Female asylum seekers often face difficulties accessing employment for reasons related to cultural barriers. For example, many women have never worked before and especially when it comes to the conditions in the sectors of agriculture and animal farming (remoteness, staying overnight, male dominated work spaces) there is a need for gradual and facilitated transition to employment.
(Pictures by Caritas Cyprus)