Access to the labour market

Cyprus

Author

FutureWorldsCenter (FWC)

According to the amended Refugee Law,1 asylum seekers are permitted to access the labour market 9 months after the submission of an asylum application, unless otherwise determined by the Minister of Interior, in consultation with the Minister of Labour and Social Insurance. The Refugee Law affords the Minister of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance, in consultation with the Minister of Interior, the power to place restrictions and conditions in the right to employment, without hindering asylum seekers’ effective access to the labour market.2 Such decisions have yet to be issued.

Currently, in practice, asylum seekers have access to the labour market 9 months after the lodging of asylum application under the provisions of a previous ministerial decree issued in 2008.

According to the 2008 decree, the permitted fields of employments for asylum seekers are the following:3








Permitted sectors and posts for asylum seekers

Sectors of labour market

Permitted occupations

Agriculture; animal husbandry; fishery

Labourers

Manufacture

Forage productions labourers

Waste management

Drainage and waste processing labourers

Garbage and trash collection and processing labourers

Recycling labourers

Animal Waste Processing labourers

Wholesale trade-repairs

Gas stations and carwash labourers

Freight handlers of wholesale trades

Other fields

Building and outdoors cleaners

Distributors of advertising and informative materials

Food delivery

Job referrals are usually given on a form along with the details of potential employers. Applicants are required to contact them directly, and the employer is expected to provide a written report on the outcome of the meeting. The form does not provide space for the asylum seekers’ statements on the outcome of the meeting, including, for instance, the reasons why it was not possible for the asylum seeker to be offered the job. Candidates need to report to the Labour Office following their contact with employers. If employment is secured, a contract needs to be signed and stamped by the District Labour Office. All employers recruiting asylum seekers are required to be authorised by the Labour Department to employ third-country nationals. 

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, 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.

Additionally, all applicants and recipients of material reception conditions, who are physically and psychologically able to take up employment are required to be registered as unemployed, after the initial 6 months period and show that they are actively seeking employment. A labour card is issued to the asylum seekers and their unemployment status is confirmed either on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

There is no formal limitation of 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.

In practice, asylum seekers still face significant obstacles in accessing the labour market. According to a recent Ombudsman report regarding access of asylum seekers to employment, available data from July 2015 indicated that only 10, all men, out of 89 registered asylum seekers took up work.4 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 single parents with young children 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.


  • Language barriers: Lack of communication skills in Greek and English often impede the efficient communication between officials of Labour Offices as well as potential employers. Many asylum seekers are unable to understand their prospective employers’ opinion during meetings and/ or the employers’ opinions on their job referral forms.


  • 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. In order to receive a license for the employment of third-country nationals, an employer is required to register at the Labour Office in addition to actively seeking for employees locally, nationally or within the EU.5 As asylum seekers are referred to them by the Labour Office, the employers may try to avoid recruiting them, hoping that if they do not hire an asylum seeker, they will be able to invite/hire other workers on a working visa. Thus, they often place the responsibility of refusing the employment on the asylum seekers.   


  • Lack of gender and cultural sensitivity in the recruitment procedure: Female asylum seekers often face difficulties accessing employment for reasons related to cultural barriers.6 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.  Women from Muslim backgrounds wearing visible symbols of their religious identity e.g. hijab / niqab report to have faced difficulties accessing the labour market, as in some cases, they were considered as unable to maintain employment due to their attire, according to the experience of FWC.

According to Article 9I(1) and (2) of the Refugee Law, asylum seekers are permitted to take part in vocational trainings linked to employment contracts, relevant to the permitted sectors of employment for asylum seeker, unless otherwise authorised by the Minister of Labour, Welfare and Social Insurance. In practice, there are no professional training schemes available in these specific sectors.

  • 1. Article 9Θ(1)(b) Refugee Law.
  • 2. Article 9Θ(2)(a)-(b) Refugee Law.
  • 3. Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance, Employment of Asylum Seekers, available at: http://bit.ly/1CFH2p2.
  • 4. Ombudsman, Report on access of female asylum seekers to employment and social welfare, 1799/2016, 11 November 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2kmGMDG.
  • 5. Circular on the Strategy for the employment of third-country nationals (Στρατηγική για την Απασχόληση Αλλοδαπών), May 2008, available at: http://bit.ly/1LbedON.
  • 6. See also Ombudsman, Report on access of female asylum seekers to employment and social welfare, 1799/2016, 11 November 2016, available in Greek at: http://bit.ly/2kmGMDG.

About AIDA

The Asylum Information Database (AIDA) is a database managed by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), containing information on asylum procedures, reception conditions, detenti