The students, who gathered outside the ministries of labour and interior last Wednesday, say that the government is limiting the occupations they can choose from by refusing to approve their employment contracts. This is preventing them from gaining experience in their fields of study and making them struggle to meet their living costs.
“It is illegal for students to work without approved employment contracts and those who are caught working illegally are now asked to leave Cyprus instead of being taken to court,” read a statement posted on behalf of the protesters on the American College in Cyprus’s Facebook page.
While international students in Cyprus may work up to 20 hours per week during term-time, the country is allowed under EU law to set part-time work rules that reflect its labour market conditions.
Labour minister Sotiroula Charalambous, who has met with the students, told the Cyprus Mail that some contracts had not been authorised because employers were obliged to hire previous employees (such as seasonal staff who had been laid off) before non-EU students. “Because of the current labour market conditions we cannot enlarge the list of jobs students can be employed at,” he added.
However, the students claimed they were entitled to fair employment outside study time under European Union law. A student representative also told the Mail that there was a false public perception that international students were working to send money abroad rather than to cover their living expenses. “It’s very difficult for us to survive in this very expensive economic climate,” said another.
“…Can’t believe that students are still deprived of such a basic right, the whole point of professional study is to obtain experience while studying”
Cyprus’ spiralling fiscal deficit, which led to an unpopular EU-directed austerity plan introduced earlier this month, is the likely cause of the curbs on work rights. Yesterday thousands of Cyprus government workers held a strike against a proposed two-year salary freeze, and domestic university students protested at a decision to reduce student grants by 10% in September.
Overseas students, aware of the cost of their education and their importance to the economy (Cyprus launched a drive to increase international numbers last year), have said they are determined to have their voices heard too.
“Can’t believe that students are still deprived of such a basic right, the whole point of professional study is to obtain experience while studying,” Javinder Jassi commented on the American College’s Facebook page.
Chrisna Tamang wrote, “Cyprus is going to lose the international students very soon if they won’t realise we are the source of the economy.”