In their battle against proposed layoffs at Hellenic Bank, the bank employees’ union (Etyk) voted almost unanimously in favour of approving a general strike if and when it is deemed necessary.

With 99.5 per cent in favour, members of the union across all banks and districts sent a clear message that Hellenic’s bid to slash 300-350 staff will not go unchallenged.

Hellenic – the island’s second-largest commercial lender – under CEO Oliver Gatzke, a German national, is hoping to slash costs amid branch closures and increasing digitalisation which has reduced demand for much of its staff.

The union counters that the bank should offer a voluntary retirement plan, a move which is viewed as costly and unlikely to reduce staff by the cited amount.

But the stage is now set for a tense stand-off, with the directors of the union now authorised to take measures – most notably calling for a strike, when it so chooses.

Speaking earlier at a press conference announcing Hellenic’s 2021 results, Gatzke had said the bank has put other problematic practices on the table, including the automatic indexation of wages, employer’s contribution to Etyk’s health fund, and pay rises.

“Salaries cannot rise at a rate of 5 per cent a year given that the bank has not paid out a dividend since 2013,” he noted.

The union calls Hellenic’s proposal a clear and blatant violation of the Industrial Relations Code – a sort of gentlemen’s agreement where any changes to staff are settled through procedural dialogue among the stakeholders.

In its statement, Etyk accused Hellenic of going for the easy route.

“Given its inability to increase revenues, the Gatzke administration is resorting to the ‘easy solution’ by consigning to unemployment, and without any compensation, half of its workforce.”