ECONOMY

Banks, unions converge on working hours

The increasing necessity of following developments in stock markets globally and the resulting need for a partial overlap between the trading sessions of the Athens bourse and the New York Stock Exchange is leading banks and the Greek Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions (OTOE) to abandon their inertia on the stalled issue of working hours in the credit and financial sector. The issue was discussed between representatives of OTOE and Eurobank and the National and Commercial Banks during a recent meeting on preparations for the introduction of the euro next year. Although the meeting confirmed the sharp differences between the two sides over the issue of management’s right to determine working hours, OTOE’s launch on Thursday of preparations for a plan on the new schedule, following a proposal by the Hellenic Bankers’ Association (EET), is a strong indication that discussions have entered the final phase. According to bank officials, OTOE has shown understanding of the new realities, while all signs seem to show that the changes will be finalized with the signing of the 2002 collective labor agreement for the sector. OTOE appears to be mainly concerned about safeguards against an exhausting work schedule. The important question now appears to be when the changes will be introduced, as the Athens bourse is returning to its normal 10 a.m.-2.30 p.m. schedule on Monday after having extended it this week following the upheaval in New York. The procedure that has been adopted, with the setting up of a broadly based committee (its composition due to be announced on Wednesday), suggests a rather time-consuming dialogue. At any rate, bank officials who have not embraced the idea of an extended schedule and unionists are not ruling out an unofficial extension of hours for stock market-related transactions if Athens bourse hours are extended. Both sides appear amenable to an initial agreement on an extended schedule during the first two months of next year when the drachma will be used concurrently with the euro. According to a proposal by EET which OTOE is considering, bank branches will remain open until 5-5.30 p.m. in January and February. The arrangement should be finalized after bank managers have examined OTOE’s demand for a bonus and the cost of overtime work. Banks have asked OTOE to accept lower overtime rates, arguing that the process of adjustment to the European common currency will bite into profits.