After receiving the go-ahead for ‘dynamic measures’ from the overwhelming majority of its membership, the bank employees’ union Etyk announced a 24-hour warning strike at Hellenic Bank. Etyk’s executive council also authorised the union’s secretariat, “if deemed necessary,” to extend the measures to the rest of the banks. A strike at all banks was justified, given that 99.5 per cent of members voted in favour of strike action in the ballot held last week, said the union.

Blackmail has always been part of Etyk’s modus operandi, although in the past, faced by bank boards averse to confrontation, it imposed its diktats without going as far as calling strikes – a strike threat at negotiations usually did the trick. In its dispute with Hellenic Bank, however, it has come across a CEO who refuses to be bullied and this is the reason it is now threatening to call strikes at all banks. It is calculating that to avoid a disruptive strike the bosses of the other banks would persuade Hellenic to give in to its demands.

There is another reason the blackmail was extended to all banks. Last week the Bank of Cyprus announced it would lay off some 500 workers as part of its drive to cut costs, which makes it doubly important for Etyk to fight for the lucrative, voluntary exit scheme. A strike that will close down the entire banking sector is considered the ultimate weapon for maintaining costly ‘voluntary retirement’ as the only way a bank can get rid of redundant workers. While there is no law obliging banks to offer compensation for laying off staff it has been the practice for years.

Having no legal argument regarding the compensation, Etyk has made a big issue out of the alleged refusal of Hellenic Bank to reinstate the wages of workers transferred to it from the Co-op Bank to pre-crisis levels. The labour ministry had said it was legally obliged to do so but the bank has a different view on the matter that might have to be settled in court; it never said it would not reinstate the wages. That Etyk is using this dispute to claim the bank was violating the law and citing the opinion of the labour ministry as if it were a court of law is indicative of its dirty tricks.

It is an effective way of diverting attention from its own violation of the industrial relations code, calling a strike while there was a mediation procedure underway. The labour ministry has not declared a deadlock because while the two sides agreed to take their dispute to mediation, there have been no negotiations. For Etyk, the laws and rules exist only for the other side. It can blackmail whomever it wants, whenever it chooses.