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Our View: Are bank trade unions above the constitution?

THE ATTORNEY-general’s opinion, regarding the labour dispute at Hellenic Bank that has led to the imposing of an overtime ban by the bank employees’ union ETYK, should lead to a re-examination of the concept of industrial relations and the way it is handled by the authorities.

The dispute was caused by the board’s decision not to seek the approval of the union over managerial appointments, with the latter claiming this was a violation of collective agreements between the two sides. However, the Attorney-general’s opinion was very clear, saying that the union could not have a say in any agreement reached freely between two parties – the bank and the appointee – because this would be a violation of the constitution which protected the right of two sides to enter a contract.

In other words, the provision in collective agreements which gave ETYK a say over appointments was in breach of the constitution, but was regarded an inviolable ‘workers’ right’ because nobody had challenged its legality in the past. And currently, there is an industrial dispute at Hellenic Bank, with the union defending the ‘right’ to violate the constitution. When the AG’s opinion was made public, last Friday, ETYK showed its respect for constitutional order by sending its henchmen to the bank to ensure employees complied with the overtime ban and did not stay at work after 2.30pm.

Are we to assume that employer-worker agreements supersede the constitution? Nobody has dared to take a position on the matter. The department of industrial relations at the Labour ministry said on Friday “that this issue does not fall under labour disputes.” The same department, when the dispute was first referred to it for mediation, had issued a decision claiming that bank was violating the collective agreement.

This was the reason the bank sought the opinion of the AG – justifiably, it did not trust the ministry mediation department, which has a track record of pro-union bias. After all, it is run by unionised civil servants who are always inclined to take the side of their fellow workers. The fact it issued a decision on the dispute, without bothering to consult, the AG proves the point.

The question now, is how ETYK would be made to respect the constitution and drop its demand to have a say in managerial appointments? Does Hellenic have to take the union to court and prove that the latter wanted to implement an unconstitutional measure before the overtime ban is lifted? ETYK is unlikely to give up this unconstitutional privilege voluntarily, so how do the authorities plan to resolve the matter? We suspect it will be ignored because the state authorities would rather turn a blind eye to a violation of the constitution than take on a powerful union.

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