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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Decision for immediate payment of 70% of unemployment and maternity benefits

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Απoφαση για Αμ&epsilon ;ση καταβολor του 70% των επιδομàτω ν ανεργiας και μητρoτητας

The vision of the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance is to achieve full and quality employment, to ensure fair and decent wages and pensions, the safety and health of all employees and to ensure labor peace, emphasized the Minister of Labor and Social Insurance, Kyriakos Kousios, speaking before the Finance Committee of the Parliament, which examined the Ministry's budget for 2023, which shows an increase of 6.5% compared to that of 2021, but also the Medium-term Fiscal Framework 2023 – 2025.

At the same time, Mr. Kousios emphasized the essential importance of digitizing the services of the Ministry of Labor and added that “if we don't  digitize our services we will continue to face serious problems. The goal is to continue quickly”, he underlined.  

Furthermore, Mr. Kousios announced that a decision has been taken by the Ministry of Labor and a relevant proposal will be submitted to the Council of Ministers for approval “for the immediate payment of 70% in the cases of unemployment and maternity benefits” and “at the same time changes to the software to make these payments have been rolled out”. He expressed the hope that this decision will be implemented before the end of 2022.

With reference to the budget of the Ministry of Labor and Social Insurance for the years 2023, 2024 and 2025, this amounts to €621 million, €692 million and €720 million respectively, compared to the corresponding budget of €583 million in 2022 These amounts do not include the costs for the projects co-financed by the European Social Fund.

The Minister of Labor said that an amount of €182 million from the budget for 2023 concerns social benefits, while the budgeted expenses of the Social Insurance Fund, the Central Leave Fund, the Surplus Personnel Fund and the Employer Insolvency Fund for the year 2023 are €2 .2 billion. He noted that the implementation rate of the 2022 budget is expected to be at 96%, a rate similar to that of the 2021 budget.

He added that the total budget of the Ministry of Labor for the years 2023, 2024 and 2025, including the costs of co-financed projects, amounts to €657 million, €716 million and €742 million respectively, compared to the corresponding budget of € 607 million in 2022.

Mr. Kousios emphasized that “an essential issue for the Ministry of Labor is the digitization of the Ministry”, while he noted that “the software system has been operating since 1995 and cannot respond to the current needs, hence many delays are observed”.

He added that for this purpose he has visited Austria and has agreed with the Minister of Labor and also with the Minister of Finance of Austria to cooperate with them with a state company, which undertakes the creation of software for the Austrian state and is expected within the first 15 days of December to have an echelon of the company visit us to assess our needs and make us an offer to agree with them in order to have as soon as possible the implementation and operation of a new system software that will solve the issue of the delays observed”.

At this point, Mr. Kousios said that “almost all benefits and all applications are registered digitally and it is expected that in 2022 we will have about 250,000 applications in total”, which means that “we receive about 1,500 applications daily” .

“With the process of simplifying the examination that we implemented, the times for examination of applications and the payment of benefits have been significantly reduced and we have reached today to have 56,000 applications” under examination, from 67,000 that existed previously, he said, and added that “they are being examined plus applications submitted during September 2022.

Call Center

The Labor Minister said that a tender had been awarded for the operation of a citizen service call center and “it is expected that it will be operational by December 15” and added that the delay was due to the fact that we first had to “listen to the advice of the Commissioner for Personal Data Protection ».

He also referred to the implementation of the National Minimum Wage saying that 80,000 workers will benefit from it, of which 40,000 will benefit over €50 and in some cases €250-270 will benefit, while in relation to the actuarial reduction of pensions by 12%, the Mr. Kousios said that it was not the Government that introduced this measure and added that there are laws passed by the Parliament as well as regulations for retirement at the age of 65, mentioning that several countries are moving to increase the retirement age to 67, such as are among others England and Belgium.

Deposit of Zeta Emilianidou

Referring to the legacy left by the late former Minister of Labor Zeta Emilianidou, Mr. Kousios said that this is the establishment of the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare, the implementation of the Minimum Guaranteed Income, the “Baby Dowry” Plan, the widow's pension for men as well, paternity leave and pay, extended maternity leave and pay, the Low Pensioners Free Holiday Scheme, the 'New Disability Assessment System', supported living homes and programs and the Autism Family Intervention and Support Centre.

He also stated that on July 8, 2021, the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare was established and the Social Welfare Services were transferred to the Deputy Ministry, on January 1, 2022, the Welfare Benefits Management Service was transferred from the Ministry of Labor to the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare and on January 1, 2023 the Department of Social Integration of Persons with Disabilities will be transferred from the Ministry of Labor to the Deputy Ministry of Social Welfare.

Regarding the special challenges, the new policies and the strategic priorities of the Ministry for the period 2023 – 2025, Mr. Kousios said that these are the assurance of the high employability of citizens, the review and revision of the Strategy for the Employment of Third Country Foreigners in force since 2007, the reform and modernization of the Social Security System (in collaboration with the International Labor Office – ILO), the reform of the pension system (ILO), the legislative regulation of telework, the effective treatment of undeclared work (TOOLS I and II ( Austrian Social Insurance System), the founder for a Telephone Contact Center to serve the citizens and promote the Implementation of Demographic Policies as defined in the National Plan and as approved by the Council of Ministers.

In the framework of the National Plan “Cyprus_Tomorrow”, Mr. Kousios said that €170 million of projects are budgeted for this Plan for the next five years and added that the Ministry of Labor “sets as a primary goal for 2023-2025 the implementation of policies and projects included in the thematic of the 5th axis (development of skills and abilities so that the workforce meets the demands and trends of the modern labor market, including those arising from the green and digital transition)”.

Regarding the employment of workers from third countries, Mr. Kousios said that “we are in the final stages of drafting” a bill and” after discussing it with the social partners it will be submitted to the Council of Ministers for a decision”.

Referred regarding the percentage of undeclared work, Mr. Kousios said that while in 2017 it was 15.46% and concerned 10,616 undeclared workers, “today it has decreased to 5.62% and concerns only 795 undeclared workers.

He also said that in 2022, 401 administrative fines involving a total amount of €1,225,900 were imposed.

Employment of Turkish Cypriots

The Minister of Labor said that the implementation is progressing rapidly of the training program for Turkish Cypriots to join the labor market, adding that a technical committee has been set up for this matter and “very soon we will have results”.

In relation to important policies, reforms and projects implemented in 2022, the Minister of Labor said that these concern the National Minimum Wage, the One-time Six-month Honorary Allowance Scheme for prisoners of war, civilians, war victims and disabled persons, the sickness allowance for persons who continue to work beyond the age of 63, the Digital Transformation of Departments and Services, the Parental Leave Harmonization Bill, the National Disability Action Plan, the Disability Holiday Grant Scheme and the end of reassessments of children with disabled people who are entitled to disability benefits, until they reach adulthood.

Regarding the Inspection Service, Mr. Kousios said that the Service conducts more than 6,000 inspections annually and meets approximately 15,000 workers, while he noted that the percentage undeclared work in 2009 was 27%, in 2017 with the establishment of the Inspection Service it was 15% and in 2021 it was further reduced to 10% and “the target is within the next 5 years to reduce the rate of undeclared work to 5%”.

In comparison, the Minister of Labor said that in 2009 the number of inspections was 2,568 involving 8,850 workers, while the percentage of undeclared workers amounted to 24.73% and today (2022) the number of inspections amounted to 5,732 involving 14,158 workers, while the percentage of undeclared workers decreased to 5.62%.

He noted that “in the last five years, occupational accidents have decreased significantly” with the decrease amounting to 6.8%.

“We see that both employers and employees are now taking occupational health and safety seriously,” he added.  

Speaking during the session, the President of the Committee, Christiana Erotokritou, welcomed the creation of 15 new positions for the Social Insurance Department and referred to the importance of implementing the three-year plan, while noting the need to have an individualized and socially sensitive approach to the cut-off of the proportional pension reduction of 12% for early retirement at the age of 63.  

The MP of DISY, Onoufrios Koullas, said that “a lot has been done in recent years in the direction of rationalization and the strengthening of the social state in our country”, while he congratulated the Minister because in a very short period of time, as he said, “he has done so much and above all he has closed the matter concerning the National Minimum Wage”.

He also mentioned that the honorary allowance is also important and wondered why it took so many years to support these people who are mainly with low incomes and pensions..

Mr. Koullas congratulated the Minister for the closure of the issues concerning the sickness allowance and parental leave but also “for adopting requests of the political forces”.

“We instituted all these new benefits” including the men's widow's pension, benefit and paternity leave, he said, while highlighting the much higher volume of claims being shouldered by Labor Department workers.

He also said that “ all that has been done in these years is without imposing new contributions and new taxes” and added that “this became possible due to the prudent policy and development strategy”.

Besides, AKEL MP, Andreas Kavkalias, said that “zeroing is not a useful approach, but embellishing situations as the DISY parliamentary group is doing is definitely the wrong approach”, adding that the embellishment of situations has also been done by the Minister of Finance on the first day of the budgets, speaking of a steep improvement in social cohesion indicators in 2021 and 2022″.

He said that according to the Statistical Service, “more than 20,000 young people are in a state of complete inactivity” and he added that from the 56% that was the share of wages in the national income has been limited to 46%, while the income from profits has increased from 45% to 58%.

In addition, it said that “while inflation eats away at a tenth of workers' incomes, the government is backtracking on ATA, opposing the removal of the 12% penalty on pensions and unable or unwilling to take measures to support households to tackle the punctuality ».

“He also refuses to discuss an increase in the EEE allowance, which was set in 2014 at €480 for a single person and reduces the EEE budget by €15m in 2023, which is a challenge for society,” he added.

Mr. Kavkalias also said that “over the years the rulers have limited themselves to the minimum to support society, with the vulnerable groups of the population receiving the greatest pressure” and added that “ten years later and what is recorded are the enormous delays in examination and payment of EEE, low pensioner allowance and Social Insurance Fund allowances and pensions, the unfulfilled commitments of the rulers to create independent legislation for the disabled consistent with the principles of the UN Convention, their unfulfilled commitments to modernize important legislations , such as the one on Children, the one on Homes for the Elderly and the one on Adoption, as well as their unfulfilled commitments to modernize the Social Welfare Services.

EDEK Member of Parliament, Andreas Apostolou, thanked the leadership of the Ministry for the fruitful dialogue in relation to parental leave, but also the decision of the Council of Ministers not to re-evaluate minor children with disabilities.

The Member of Parliament of DIPA, Marinos Musiouttas, congratulated the Minister and Blessed Zeta, as he said, “for the effort being made to improve”, adding that “we recognize that steps are being taken in the right direction”, even if some want more.

The President of the Environmental Citizens Cooperation Movement, Charalambos Theopeptou, referred to the need to revise the list of professions in the Ministry's electronic system and added that a check that did this was about 20 years behind.

He also mentioned to the need to make appeals from the Ministry, as is done in Europe, to people who have completed school or university and will not go to study to register as unemployed and added as the reason this is done is to know at all times what is happening in the country and where the unemployment rate is.

Source: www.reporter.com.cy

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