Cyprus Mail

Union authorised to take action by Hellenic Bank workers (Update-1)

(Updates with Hellenic comment in seventh paragraph and background in second)

By Stelios Orphanides

Bank workers’ union Etyk said that its members at Hellenic bank authorised it on Wednesday to take any necessary action against the lender, including strike action, citing an “arbitrary” plan to set up a joint venture to manage bad loans.

Etyk was angered by Hellenic’s decision five months ago to transfer staff to a new company, APS Debt Servicing Ltd, set up to manage its delinquent portfolio. The Cypriot unit of APS, APS Recovery Ltd and Hellenic will own 51 per cent and 49 per cent in the new firm. It is scheduled to start operating on July 1, after it received all pertinent regulatory approvals.

Etyk said 99.3 per cent of the “large number of colleagues” who participated in a vote authorised the union to send “resounding messages in every direction”.

“We will not accept the victimisation of any of our colleagues,” the union said, adding that it wants to have every job secured in the long-term.

Hellenic, which posted a €10.5m net loss in the first quarter, and generated a €63.5m loss last year, is still struggling with non-performing loans amounting to around €2.5bn, or 57 per cent, of the total as per March 2017, compared to under €2.7bn, or 59.5 per cent, in the first quarter of 2015.

“It is not clear to the colleagues whether the current move of Hellenic Bank is an experiment by employers to get rid of services and workers,” the union said, adding that the agreement with APS could serve as a precedent for other banks.

Etyk, known for its harsh rhetoric, suffered a humiliating defeat in 2015, when Attorney-general Costas Clerides opined that it had no right to strike to protest the appointment of managers selected by Hellenic Bank’s administration.

In its first reaction, a Hellenic Bank source who spoke on condition of anonymity said that by setting up of the new company “no job will be changed, no salary and no benefit will change”.

The lender aims at “safeguarding workers’ rights and the effective, speedy reduction of non-performing loans,” Hellenic said. “We are agreed that the rights of workers transferred to the new company and the obligations stemming from employment contracts and collective agreements, as well as all jobs will be preserved in accordance with relevant legislation”.

Hellenic added that it agreed to a range of concessions to affected workers, including re-appointing them at the bank on the same employment terms after a two-year period, and that the bank’s administration is prepared to continue dialogue with the union.

The bank also accused Etyk of lack of cooperation in the area of healthcare insurance and as a result Hellenic and APS will offer affected workers healthcare coverage “via contributions to other funds”.

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