Staff at ATEbank in open-ended strike over breakup

Staff at cash-strapped Greek state lender ATEBank on Tuesday kicked off an indefinite strike against a planned breakup of the bank’s assets which they say will cost taxpayers dearly.

A decision by the government last week to separate ATEBank into performing and non-performing assets, handing over the sound part to private Piraeus Bank in order to save jobs, has also raised political protests.

ATEBank’s union argues that under the current plan, saving the bank will cost over 7.0 billion euros, including 3.8 billion needed for the state to take over the lender’s non-performing assets.

“Recapitalizing the bank would have cost 4.0 billion euros. Now the cost will more than double,» union chief Costas Amoutsias told state television NET, adding that staff would continue the strike «for as long as we can».

Founded in 1929, the former Agricultural Bank has a network of nearly 500 branches but is held down by ailing subsidiaries and failed Europe-wide stress tests held in 2010 and 2011.

The main opposition has labelled the affair a «scandal» and accuses the conservative-led coalition government of giving away ATEBank to Piraeus Bank, which only scraped through the last stress test itself.

Along with other Greek banks, ATEBank was obliged to exchange its state bonds at a loss earlier this year to help Greece lighten its imminent debt repayments.

But as a state bank, it was barred from receiving EU recapitalization funds extended to private Greek lenders, including Piraeus Bank.

“The bank’s owner barged in, took out all the money. and now they call the bank non-viable?» Amoutsias wondered on Tuesday, referring to the government.

Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and Bank of Greece governor George Provopoulos have been called to brief parliament on the issue on Friday.


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