OTOE takes hard line

«This is going to be a fight to the end,» Dimitris Tsoukalas, the president of the Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE), said yesterday, underscoring the unionists’ determination to derail the government’s plans to amalgamate bank employees’ auxiliary pension funds into the Social Security Foundation (IKA). This measure would concern employees hired after January 1, 1993, and would result in reduced pensions relative to the older employees. The reason the government is pushing for a solution is because under the new International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) provisions for pensions and severance pay have to be included as liabilities in banks’ balance sheets. The banks with the greatest problem, Emporiki and National, happen to be those where the state still retains a direct or indirect stake. Amalgamating the pension funds would improve the banks’ finances and make them more attractive to investors. This holds true especially for Emporiki, where France’s Credit Agricole holds an 11 percent stake and is interested in expanding it and even taking over the bank’s management – but only on the condition that something is done with the auxiliary pension fund, which has a large deficit. Tsoukalas and other OTOE officials used dramatic language to underscore the importance of the fight. They argued forcefully against a proposed law that the government has said it will submit to Parliament if talks between banks and OTOE break down. They said any such intervention would be unconstitutional and brought their own legal experts to say so. Tsoukalas said that OTOE proposed to unify all pension funds into a single, independent fund with no reduced pensions for any category of employees. He said OTOE does not want a solution that would require an infusion of cash from the state budget, as the government has proposed. «Let the banks themselves cover the deficits,» he said. «Can it be that the only ones who will not pay will be those that owe the money in the first place?» OTOE Executive Council member Dimitris Tsigenes said that under the government’s proposal, employer contributions to employee pensions would be halved, from 26.5 percent to 13.33 percent. He added that no actuarial studies have been prepared. Tsoukalas wondered why none of the bankers had come forward in support of the government’s proposal and said that it was unacceptable to deprive younger employees of their pension rights. «They want to force me, with the noose around my neck, to sign on behalf of the coming generations,» he said, adding, even more dramatically: «If OTOE falls, nothing will be left standing. (The government) will push through for flexible working hours.» Aware of the momentum for reform and not certain of support by the main opposition Socialists, OTOE is seeking alliances among the labor movement. GSEE and ADEDY, the top unions of private and public sector employees respectively, will join OTOE in a big rally outside its old offices at Sina Street next Thursday at 1 p.m. «We want the other side to understand that OTOE, with its 63,000 active employees and 37,000 pensioners, is not alone,» Tsoukalas said. OTOE will also oppose an alternative way of abolishing the funds at banks’ extraordinary shareholders’ meetings.

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