Responding to an urgent appeal from Disy leader Averof Neophytou, bank workers union Etyk on Thursday agreed to suspend – but not entirely call off – strike action at Hellenic Bank on Tuesday, provided management agreed to revoke its decision to fire 350 employees.

Their announcement came hours after Neophytou urged both sides to step back from the brink for the sake of industrial peace and economic stability.

Earlier on Thursday, the union had accused the management of bullying employees not to strike and warned it would take legal action.

In a written statement on Thursday afternoon, Etyk’s secretariat said they had evaluated the Disy leader’s proposal regarding the problems at Hellenic Bank.

“According to the substance of the proposal of Mr Averof Neophytou, the two sides, Etyk and the management of Hellenic Bank, are urged to withdraw their respective threats and return to the table in good faith for talks on the basis of existing institutions and procedures,” it said.

Under this same proposal, Etyk should suspend its planned warning strike of next Tuesday and Hellenic Bank revoke its decision to make staff redundant, the union said.

Given that this distances the threat of redundancies and out of respect for institutions, procedures and the collective agreements and law, Etyk added that it had decided to suspend the 24-hour warning strike.

But this was only provided Hellenic Bank accepts and implements Neophytou’s proposal it clarified. This would give time to seek a way out of the problem without threats and blackmail, it added as it congratulated the Disy leader for this initiative and thanked him for his involvement.

It also congratulated all bank staff for their solidarity.

For its part, Hellenic released a statement of its own thanking Neophytou for his “substantive intervention aimed at preserving labour tranquillity.”

The bank said it reiterated its commitment “to discuss, within the procedures of the labour ministry, all the open issues in a spirit of conciliation, transparency and cooperation to the benefit of the bank, the employees and all concerned parties, avoiding unnecessary and detrimental confrontation.”

It’s understood the two sides will now sit at the table for some give-and-take. If the union does not get what it wants, it can always bring back the threat of strike action which it did not call off, merely “suspend.”

Earlier, Etyk had claimed Hellenic Bank employees were being bullied by management not to strike as Neophytou appealed to both sides to resolve their differences round the table for the sake of labour peace and economic stability.

The union had called a 24-hour warning strike for Tuesday, May 31, over the bank’s plans to make 350 staff redundant without offering additional compensation. Other gripes with management include implementation of the collective union agreement.

It has drawn criticism from Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos, who is acting labour minister while Zeta Emilianidou remains in critical condition after a brain aneurism. Earlier this week Karousos cancelled a scheduled meeting with Etyk because the union had pre-emptively called a strike before their rendezvous and suggested it had not shown the necessary respect to Emilianidou.

And the bank has described the decision to strike as sad and disappointing. Such a measure would further disrupt the banking system and economy during very challenging times, it added, as it reiterated its intention and commitment to discussing all open and outstanding issues.

In a written statement on Thursday, Neophytou said that at a time when Cyprus was already experiencing a third international crisis, it was essential to maintain industrial peace and safeguard financial and monetary stability.

“That is why I am calling on the one hand on Etyk to suspend its strike measures and on the management of Hellenic Bank on the other to suspend its decision for dismissals and to enter into constructive dialogue under the framework of the Labour Ministry,” he said.

In a circular to members on Thursday, Etyk said that it had been contacted by colleagues complaining that they had fallen victim to intimidation from representatives of the bank’s board.

“Specifically, representatives of the bank’s management, with various ways are intimidating colleagues not to exercise their constitutionally protected right to strike,” it said.

The union said it has already filed a complaint with the labour ministry, asking it to investigate and act.

“We stress that our organisation is determined to deal with all cases of bullying that may emerge, through the labour ministry, the trade union commissioner and with personal criminal lawsuits against individuals and the management of the bank,” it said.

The right to strike was constitutionally protected and bullying carries serious criminal repercussions, it said adding that it would make sure that offenders face the consequences of their actions.

“That is why we call on all colleagues who may fall victim to intimidation (direct or indirect) by representatives of the management to immediately lodge a complaint with our organisation so such cases can be immediately and effectively dealt with,” it concluded.