Cyprus Mail

Bank unions claim Hellenic forcing staff to overtime

Hellenic CEO Bert Pijls

By Elias Hazou

THE dispute on bank hours got rougher on Thursday, with bank workers’ union ETYK warning of possible strikes should Hellenic Bank continue to coax staff into overtime work.

ETYK was responding to an internal memo by Hellenic CEO Bert Pijls, who appeared to diplomatically urge staff to pay the union no heed.

A day earlier, the union had claimed that the bank’s employees were being forced “through intimidation” to work beyond normal hours without extra pay.

This was in violation of the industrial relations code, ETYK said. It also called on its members to abstain from any overtime work as of yesterday, strictly adhering to the working hours – 7.30am to 2.30pm.

Pijls’ memo, seen by the Cyprus Mail, read:
“This action comes as a total surprise to me because I have not received any prior communication from the union nor has there been any recent meeting with the union to discuss possible issues or concerns. In my opinion and experience, the best way to negotiate is to talk to each other, not to negotiate on the back of the employees, or in other words, you.

“Therefore I object to this unilateral action,” the CEO noted.

“I say this because our clients need us. As they are working hard to cope with the aftermath of the crisis, they need their bank next to them, whether it is for a new loan or to re-structure a client who has financial difficulties. We cannot disrupt our clients.”

Thanking staff for their hard work, the banker went on to say: “What I ask of you now is to please continue that good work and to remain loyal to Hellenic Bank and the role it plays in the lives of our customers and the recovery of the economy.”

Hitting back, ETYK said the Pijls memo only confirmed that management at Hellenic is bent on exploiting employees.

In a statement, dramatically titled “End workplace bullying,” the union called the memo a thinly-veiled attempt to intimidate staff into not exercising their worker rights.

“We wish… to warn those who intimidate our colleagues, that they must be ready to face the consequences of the law, which is clear on the matter and provides for heavy sentences, including imprisonment, for obstruction of trade-union activity.”

ETYK cautioned the bank that should pressure be exerted from within the bank on any staff member to continue working overtime, “we shall escalate our measures immediately.”

This included undertaking lawsuits against bank management.

The union said it will be holding general meetings on May 26 to discuss and determine their response, “not excluding strike action.”

ETYK suggested moreover that the bank was being disingenuous.

“Management says that it is surprised, which in turn surprises us. Are they not aware that, for some time now, staff is being asked to work from 7am to 7pm? Do they not know that staff are bringing their sleeping bags to work?”

Meanwhile, hours before the ETYK rejoinder, Finance minister Harris Georgiades was weighing in on the debate.

Georgiades, a low-key figure who usually steers clear of controversy, was clear as to where he stood on the issue.

“I consider it unacceptable and provocative that to this day banks shut their doors to the public at 1.30pm,” Georgiades said in remarks before the fifth Nicosia Economic Congress.

“Even the public sector has improved in this area, and I think that we should all expect more from the banks,” he added.

Speaking about a country barely on the mend after the 2013 financial meltdown, the minister noted that no national economy can rehabilitate and grow without a healthy and properly-functioning banking sector.

The Cypriot economy may be slowly recovering, but is still fragile and has yet to acquire the robustness to create new jobs.

“We must continue our efforts and abstain from any actions or decisions which would only serve to impede our path toward recovery,” Georgiades said.

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