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Our View: It’s time for independent mediators in labour disputes

photo elliniki stasi ergasias 1
Hellenic Bank workers on strike on Monday

Minister of Labour Yiannis Panayiotou said on Monday that he would exercise a mediating role in the dispute between bank workers’ union Etyk and Hellenic Bank. He was speaking just before the bank’s workers staged a three-hour work stoppage over the ongoing dispute on the renewal of the collective agreements.

The ministry’s industrial relations department had tried all last week to resolve the dispute, said Panayiotou, but failed to do so. He said the ministry would “continue and step up its mediation efforts”, because “we consider that it would be in the interest of everyone for the open issues pending at Hellenic Bank to be resolved.”

Could the Hellenic board and top management have any confidence in a labour minister who, for the eight months he has been in his post, has satisfied every demand made by the unions? Panayiotou has shown time and again that he is not impartial when it comes to disputes, his priority always being to keep union bosses happy.

This could be government policy and not just a case of ministerial bias. There is also a tradition of institutional bias at the labour ministry’s mediation service, which much of the time takes the union side. This could be because the service is run by civil servants, who are themselves members of Pasydy, and can only see a dispute from an employee’s point of view. They have very little knowledge or understanding of how a business works and the concept of competitiveness, so how could they be fair when mediating?

Employers’ organisations should never have agreed to have a mediation service run by unionised civil servants under politicians who have always relied on union votes. Labour ministry mediation has never taken place on a level playing field and it may be time for a non-governmental, independent mediation service to be set up, one in which people with business experience also participate.

What probability is there for Panayiotou and his technocrats at the mediation service to come up with a mutually acceptable resolution to the Hellenic Bank dispute? Very low indeed, considering the dispute has been going on for some years now, with Etyk obdurately refusing to budge from its positions. It cannot even agree to the bank stopping paying medical insurance for employees, despite the existence of Gesy to which the bank is also making monthly contributions. It is a worker’s conquest that cannot be given up, is the totally unreasonable line of Etyk.

The union is unlikely to budge on anything because it may be trying to strengthen its position at Hellenic prior to its imminent takeover by Eurobank, the Cyprus subsidiary of which has no dealings with Etyk. Even the stepping up of efforts to resolve the dispute by the minister is an indication of trying to help the union, ahead of the takeover.






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