By Stefanos Evripidou
BANK EMPLOYEES’ union ETYK yesterday called off its decision to carry out a two-hour strike across all banks today after getting a number of its demands met by the interim board of the stricken Bank of Cyprus (BoC).
The union decided to recall its decision to hold a protest work stoppage from 12.30pm to 2.30pm following a compromise deal reached with the BoC management over the early retirement scheme being offered to employees.
ETYK’s initial decision to call a strike, announced on Wednesday, sparked the fury of the employers and industrialists’ federation OEV which accused the union of being “reckless and self-destructive”.
Ruling DISY also called on ETYK to suspend strike measures, and not rush into actions that will divide workers.
However, House President Yiannakis Omirou, Finance Minister Harris Georgiades, and the BoC’s interim chairman Sophoclis Michaelides yesterday intervened, holding meetings with ETYK to bang out a compromise deal.
According to an ETYK announcement, the BoC board agreed to extend the period in which employees can opt for early retirement to next Friday, as opposed to today, when the offer of the scheme was meant to expire.
The Bank’s leadership had wanted to see about 1,000 people opt for the scheme. The fact it agreed to extend its duration to August 2 suggests these numbers failed to materialise, bearing in mind ETYK’s fierce opposition to the terms of the scheme running up to the deadline.
ETYK argued for the extension so that employees would know what the final arrangement would be for their provident funds, which currently remain frozen as the bank works out the full scale of the ‘bail-in’ of its depositors.
The union also secured an extra two months’ salaries as compensation for those who decide to take early retirement, taking the total to seven, in addition to one month’s salary for every two years of service they would receive.
For example, 20 years of service would give an employee 17 months’ salary in compensation.
In addition to the above, ETYK has offered to cover two years extra health insurance for those who opt for the scheme, taking their coverage to the end of 2016.
ETYK also announced plans to contribute €15m of its own money, which was evidently not subject to a haircut, ensuring that each departing worker gets an additional €10,000-12,000 extra in compensation.
According to the banking union, the additional benefits secured will more or less cover the shortfall in the final haircut that may be imposed on employees’ provident funds.
The BoC board is expected to issue a circular today to employees providing details on the compromise agreement reached yesterday.
OEV deputy head Michalis Antoniou yesterday expressed hope that the agreement reached was not a result of undue pressure applied by the union.
He further argued that had ETYK insisted on going ahead with the strike, OEV would have taken unprecedented action to prevent it from happening.
“There was no chance this strike was going to take place. OEV has mechanisms at its disposal, which are rarely utilised, but we are prepared in this period, when we see a lot of firsts taking place, to use these mechanisms for the first time to prohibit this strike from taking place. End of story,” said Antoniou.
Omirou put his weight clearly behind the union, noting that no one had the right to stop workers adopting strike measures if their labour rights are violated.
He called on the BoC to improve the early retirement scheme, saying: “I’d like to call on the Bank of Cyprus management to improve its offer for a comprehensive agreement.”
DIKO welcomed the “spirit of consensus” shown which led to a better plan and averted a strike.
AKEL’s Christos Christofides also welcomed the improvements to the voluntary scheme, saying: “The struggles of workers and the weapons at their disposal are holy. Certainly, workers must show responsibility but so too must employers and the government.”