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Our View: Special treatment of bank employees had to end, and that time is now

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The bank employees’ union Etyk has invited all its members to district general assemblies next week to vote on strike measures. The union has been in a dispute over pay demands and redundancies at Hellenic Bank for some time now, but has called on all bank workers to vote on its strike proposal because “developments at Hellenic affect all our members at all banks.”

In other words, Etyk wants members’ backing to close down the banking system, regardless of the consequences for the economy in order to have its way in its dispute with Hellenic Bank. In its latest circular, which is tantamount to a call to arms, the union claims rather misleadingly the bank wants to abolish job permanence and sack 50 per cent of its staff.

The bank’s CEO, Oliver Gatzke, spoke about laying off 350 members of its 2,500-strong work force, which is 14 per cent. As for ending job permanence, this is disingenuous, considering it refers to the bank not making contractual workers permanent after a period of time. It would be irrational, at a time when the bank urgently needs to reduce its payroll, to make workers on contracts permanent.

Misinformation, intimidation and blackmail have always been the tactics of Etyk and worked for decades, the top brass of the banks always giving in. This resulted in the union accumulating huge powers – securing big pay increases every year, wages that were out of synch with the economy and having a say in promotions. Even redundancies had to take the form of voluntary early retirement – the banks deprived of the right to decide which workers would leave – with extortionate compensation packages, often as much as two years’ pay.

Hellenic Bank has decided to put an end to this lunacy. It has no obligation under the law to pay such high compensation, and if it can prove the redundancies were necessary, it is the state’s obligation to pay each worker, based on years of service from its redundancy fund, to which businesses contribute every month. The money would be a fraction of what Etyk has been demanding which is why it has gone on the offensive, now putting pressure on the politicians.

On Monday the union’s general secretary accused political circles surrounding former finance minister Harris Georgiades of having targeted bank workers! It was another lie, aimed at putting pressure on the government to intervene in the dispute with Hellenic which seems determined not to back down. The truth is that even during the 2013 banking crisis no bank worker was made redundant. In fact, the Bank of Cyprus was forced to take on all the staff of bankrupt Laiki, even though this made no economic sense, and more recently Hellenic was lumbered with the workers of the bankrupt Cyprus Co-op Bank.

This irrationality, by which bank employees were treated differently from all other private sector workers, when it came to redundancies, was unsustainable and was going to end at some point. We have arrived at this point, but Etyk is unable to accept it and is hell-bent on causing maximum disruption in the economy.

 

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