EVERY FEW weeks a union representing an ultra-privileged group of white-collar workers threatens strike action. In Cyprus, the main threat to industrial peace has always come from white-collar militancy. Civil servants, teachers, employees of semi-governmental organisations and bank workers that make up the best-paid section of the labour force regularly resort to blackmail – known as the threat of industrial action – to protect their privileges and the inordinate amount of power exercised by their unions.
In the state sector unions call the shots because their employers are cowardly, populist politicians totally averse to confrontation that might lose votes. The militancy of bank employees is more difficult to explain even though it is more extreme than that of state sector workers.
The bank employees’ union Etyk has powers that are unheard of for a public company anywhere in the world. It has a big say in promotions and recruitment, dictates opening hours and offers benefits to its members with the bank’s money among other things.
On Tuesday, it was Etyk’s turn to flex its muscles, calling the employees at the restructurings and debt recoveries department of the Bank of Cyprus to stage a two-hour work stoppage on Friday in protest against bank plans to outsource work.
In a statement it issued on Tuesday, it said: “The pursuit by the bank of the ‘unilateral’ assignment of work to external associates, at will, and in violation of existing agreements and industrial conventions, shows the real intentions of the management as regards industrial matters.” It said the bank had the “mentality of arbitrarily imposing its positions”.
The words ‘unilateral’ and ‘arbitrarily’ should be noted as they indicate Etyk’s complaint was that the bank’s management took decisions without consulting the union bosses. They are saying that before the bank’s management takes policy decisions it has to consult the workers’ representatives and secure their approval, as if the Bank of Cyprus is some kind of socialist workers’ co-operative.
The union cited agreements that obliged the bank’s management to consult the union, but no agreement is written in stone, especially when secured through blackmail and when it hampers the profitable operation of a business.
Cyta and the EAC will carry on functioning as socialist workers’ co-operatives, with the interests of their workers being the priority, but this absurd regime cannot apply to banks that are public companies owned by shareholders. Etyk’s members do not own the Bank of Cyprus and should have no say in its operation and running.
This is a fact, even though the bank’s management will not be able to avoid a costly confrontation if it is determined to impose this position, arbitrarily and unilaterally. There are certain disputes that cannot be resolved by consensus.