Cyprus Mail

Co-op suspends firing workers, gives deadline to restructure NPLs

By Stelios Orphanides

The state-owned Cyprus Cooperative Bank has agreed to temporarily suspend its decision to fire 17 of its workers who failed to service their loans hours after it was confronted with the possibility of labour action, a union leader said.

“They have been informed that they can go back to work,” said Elysseos Michael, secretary general of the private sector division of SEK, in a telephone interview on Thursday.

The decision to revoke the dismissal of the workers was taken late on Wednesday at a meeting of the bank’s board of directors with representatives of the workers’ unions. Michael added. The affected workers, part of a group of around 100, were given a March 19, deadline to conclude restructuring negotiations with the bank.

“It appears that some procedures at the bank which should have prevented this from occurring hadn’t been properly applied,” he said.

“Those who are uncooperative or are strategic defaulters refusing to pay their loans, they can be fired but according to the right procedure which provides their summoning at the disciplinary council which then has to take the decision,” he added.

On Wednesday, bank workers’ union Etyk warned that it was considering labour action to protect its members from the “arbitrary decisions” of the administration of the bank, which is struggling with €6.4bn in non-performing loans, making up more than half of its total loans. The bank received from the government in 2014 and 2015 a capital injection of almost €1.7bn and is currently working at attracting strategic and institutional investors to participate in a capital increase this summer. In January, its agreement to outsource the management of its delinquent portfolio to a joint unit set up with Spain’s non-performing loans specialist Altamira, came into force.

“We don’t want to favour anyone and put them above other customers not paying their loans but one has to acknowledge that the loans were extended to them under different circumstances and some may have been affected by health problems,” he continued.

Micheal said that while each worker’s case should be examined individually, the fact workers suffered salary cuts in 2014, may have affected their ability to pay.

The Co-op did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement on its website, Etyk, known for its militant rhetoric, said on Thursday that the suspension of the decision to fire the workers was unsatisfactory and that it “demands” that the bank treats its workers facing difficulties in repaying their loans in a similar way as it treats its customers.

Extraordinary assemblies of its members working for the Co-op scheduled for March 1, to decide about future action, including strike, will take place as announced, it said.

SEK, PEO and civil servants’ union Pasydy represent the majority of the workers of the bank which is the outcome of successive mergers with independent cooperative saving banks it administered in the past. Etyk also represents a smaller portion of the bank’s workers.

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