By Yiannis Seitanides
A significant gap remains as to the way a reduction in staff can be achieved at Hellenic Bank, despite an agreement among stakeholders, including the bank’s management and the trade unions involved, that this is a necessity.
Indeed, Hellenic Bank management does not rule out in advance that it will eventually offer a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS).
However, the scheme would have to adhere to a specific framework. Firstly, the compensation cannot be at the level of previous such schemes, and secondly, the amount of the compensation will depend on other arrangements in the wage bill.
As the CEO of Hellenic Bank, Oliver Gatzke, has explained in a message to staff, the savings in salaries, benefits and contributions, the bank’s restructuring plan, and the number of staff to be retained, are all interlinked.
This is where the dispute with bank employees union Etyk lies. The union is calling first for a new collective agreement to be signed, deductions to be returned and staff from the former cooperative bank to be integrated into the pay scales of the remaining employees of Hellenic, before then starting a dialogue on the reduction of staff.
The positions of Etyk are supported by two other unions, Peo and Sek, who represent a small number of workers from the former cooperative bank.
The difference seems technical, but it is the essence of the disagreement, as it changes the basis of the discussion, which is none other than the level of wage costs.
An intensive effort is being made to resolve this difference through consultation.
The Labour Ministry is keeping the process alive with repeated meetings, with one such meeting taking place on Tuesday, involving the representatives of Peo and Sek.
The way in which the Hellenic Bank CEO raised the need to reduce staff, initially by 350 people, shows that time is not a helping factor in the entire endeavour.
Gatzke talked about the need for transformation to ensure the long-term viability of the bank.
It is worth noting that the European Union’s banking supervisor, the ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism, has also called for operating costs to be substantially reduced and contained below 60 per cent by 2025 at the latest.
The prospect of strike action by Etyk across the banking sector, not just at Hellenic Bank, remains on the table.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down for the first wave of redundancies and layoffs on June 30, 2022.
Etyk is maintaining an intense tone during discussions and in a new statement denounced “the wrong decisions made by the management”.
The union considers that APS was not sold at the best possible price to Pimco, one of Hellenic’s shareholders, before labelling the price paid for the acquisition of the loans from RCB (more than 95 per cent of its value) as excessive.
It also posed a question about the near-€500 million profit from the acquisition of the former cooperative bank.
Finally, the union estimates that the loss in profits at more than €100 million, an amount corresponding to the cost of a voluntary redundancy plan with high severance payments.