Hellenic Bank staff to strike 31 May

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Cyprus’ banking system is facing disruption after Hellenic bank staff announced they would stage a 24-hour warning strike next week over redundancies.

The strike, scheduled for 31 May by the banking employees union ETYK, is a warning shot.

It said, “measures will be intensified if the bank’s management fails to comply with the law”.

ETYK’s decision to resort to industrial action came after Hellenic employees backed their union’s call for a strike delivering a 99.5% vote.

The union said the reasons behind the action were “violations of agreements and laws by the Hellenic bank management”.

ETYK said that if the Hellenic Bank management does not comply and abide by the agreements and the decisions of the Labour Ministry, then the strike will expand.

Cyprus’ second-largest commercial bank officially informed unions of its intentions to reduce staff by 300-350 to slash operating costs earlier this month.

The bank is determined to go ahead with its new business plan, letting staff go without compensation, unlike previous voluntary exit schemes rolled out by Hellenic and its main rival Bank of Cyprus.

ETYK maintains that the bank should offer a voluntary retirement plan, which is viewed as costly and unlikely to reduce staff numbers radically.

HB’s employees’ row was ignited after Hellenic’s CEO Oliver Gatzke announced redundancy plans.

He had warned the redundancy process was inevitable unless a collective agreement considered the bank’s revenue, expense ratio and the percentage of wage claims.

Gatzke had said the bank had put other problematic practices on the table, including the automatic indexation of wages, employer’s contribution to ETYK’s health fund, and pay rises.

He argued the bank should gradually eliminate “outdated” horizontal promotion and compensation schemes.

Hellenic has ruled out the possibility of compensation of around €200,000 to each employee who leaves, as was the practice in previous schemes.

The Association of Cyprus Banks said it favoured finding solutions that would calm the waters while creating the base for a healthy dialogue with unions.

Following the strike threat, Hellenic Bank appeared less adamant about their redundancy plans, noting they were ready to find a “holistic solution to all pending matters”.

It is understood that Hellenic is proposing a new collective agreement closer to their idea of how promotions and employee evaluations should be carried out.

Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos, standing in for seriously ill Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou, cancelled a meeting with union officials after the strike was called.

He arranged meetings with ETYK and Hellenic Bank management to be informed about their differences and attempt mediation.

Karousos said it was not the time to strike, referring to Emilianidou’s serious health issue following a rupture of a cerebral aneurysm she suffered last week.

“We must show respect for the difficult situation the Labour Minister is in.”