ECONOMY

Banks’ pullout from wage talks a big blow to OTOE

The sudden decision by Greek banks to refuse to negotiate a collective wages agreement with union representatives ushers in a new era in labor relations. Their decision to replace the collective agreement with separate agreements with union representatives at each bank effectively renders the Federation of Bank Employees Unions (OTOE) powerless. This is widely seen as the first step toward changes in other sectors that will lead to greater flexibility in the labor market. The «big six» banks (National, Alpha, EFG Eurobank, Emporiki, ATEBank and Piraeus) acted in concert early yesterday morning by coming out against collective bargaining and sending separate letters, almost simultaneously, to the president of OTOE, Dimitris Tsoukalas, informing him of their decision not to negotiate with OTOE. As of yesterday evening, at least 55 banks out of a total of 62 operating in Greece had sent similar letters. This is a perfectly legal move: the Hellenic Banks’ Association is not considered an employers’ body and is, therefore, not obliged to enter into collective wages agreements. It can sign such agreements only with the consent of 70 percent of its members. It now appears that there is near unanimity against a sector-wide wages agreement. Bankers have resented OTOE’s tough stance over the past years. They accuse the umbrella union’s representatives of having lost touch with reality and of doggedly defending privileges that have no place in today’s economic environment. Yesterday, several bankers underlined OTOE’s inflexibility on issues such as social security, opening hours and the working week. In a period of high unemployment, which affects mainly the young, OTOE is not only adamantly opposed to longer opening hours, a measure which would help customers and create jobs, but demands the further reduction of the working week, to 35 hours from the current 37. Bank employees already work three fewer hours per week than other private sector employees. EFG Eurobank CEO Nikos Nanopoulos said that OTOE not only wants a shorter working week but is demanding a pay raise in excess of 10 percent. Bankers also accuse OTOE of playing a negative role on the issue of employees auxiliary pension funds. OTOE led a long strike – with a weak overall participation – against changes in the pension fund of Emporiki Bank, which faced the biggest problems, including the threat of bankruptcy. «It should not escape your attention,» said Emporiki Chairman and CEO Giorgos Provopoulos in his letter to OTOE, «that Emporiki sustained big losses over recent years and saw its equity capital fall below the limit acceptable by oversight authorities because of its social security problem.» Besides big pensions, Emporiki employees enjoyed perks such as the ability to retire as early as 40 and bonuses for their unmarried daughters.