Employers’ organisations on Friday criticised the bank workers’ union for staging a 24-hour strike at Hellenic over the terms of employment of some 130 people who must be transferred to a new company tasked with handling the lender’s bad loans.
At the same time, Etyk issued a jubilant statement on Friday lauding the “success” of the strike and the universal participation.
Employers’ federation OEV warned that conditions in the banking system were still sensitive and “we don’t have the luxury for confrontation.”
The organisation said the workers had received assurances in writing from the bank that their employment terms would not change in any way.
“Despite this, Etyk opts for a head-on collision, endangering the reconstruction efforts of one our country’s systemic banks. Etyk’s stance revives behaviours belonging to other eras and challenges the common sense for justice.”
The union said its strike action was successful, as it commended the workers’ “exemplary and praiseworthy unity” which gave resounding messages to all directions.
The union reiterated that it was the bank that was to blame for going back on the agreement with Etyk to transfer the workers to the new company through secondment.
Hellenic Bank, the only major Cypriot bank which emerged practically unscathed from the 2013 crisis, has been slow in reducing its non-performing loans over the past years and unable to capitalise on the economy’s return to growth. Its non-performing loans (NPL) portfolio currently stands at €2.5bn, or 57 per cent of its overall loan portfolio.
In January, the lender announced an agreement with the Prague-based APS Holdings to set up a joint venture, APS Debt Servicing Cyprus Ltd., to recover debts and handle the assets linked to the NPLs.
The new unit is scheduled to go into operation on Saturday.
Etyk, known for its belligerent practices and rhetoric, almost immediately signalled its opposition to the agreement, citing unspecified concerns, receiving written assurances that all affected workers would keep their jobs, terms of employment and other benefits, as well as the right to return to the bank after a two-year period.
In the same letter, the bank said it expects to benefit from the expertise of APS Holdings in recoveries and management of delinquent portfolios, adding that agreement would also help “increase the focus of on the recovery process and empower the employees to only deal with managing their clients’ exposures through a separate entity specialising in NPLs” and real estate management.
“The law provides that the rights and obligations arising under your contract of employment or your employment relationship with Hellenic Bank prior to the sale, are transferred to APS Debt Servicing Cyprus”.
“Therefore, your employment with APS Debt Servicing Cyprus will be subject to the same terms and conditions applying to your employment with Hellenic Bank prior to the transfer and also your period of continuous employment shall be guaranteed, recognised, and protected at your employer in accordance with the provisions of the termination of employment law,” the letter continued. “All your rights deriving from the collective agreement in force on the transfer date will be respected by APS Debt Servicing Cyprus in accordance with applicable law”.
In 2015, the bank emerged victorious from a prolonged power struggle with the union when Attorney-general Costas Clerides opined that it did not have to secure the union’s approval in selecting and appointing managers.
On Thursday, the union accused the bank of “bullying” and an attempt to blackmail Etyk by forcing it to sign a new collective agreement after consenting “to reducing labour rights to shreds”.
Hellenic managers attempted to discourage workers at the recoveries department from exercising their right to strike, adding that this was “unacceptable, obviously illegal and sufficient on its own to cause an escalation of strike measures,” Etyk said in a statement.
A Hellenic source dismissed the union’s allegations, adding that the bank’s assurances to the affected workers went over and above the provisions of the collective agreement and also included eligibility to receive loans at low interest rates.