Union issues demands for new banking agreement

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In late January 2002 the Greek Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE) decided on its framework of demands for 2002 banking sector collective agreement. It is calling for pay increases of 7%-8%, the introduction of a 35-hour week and a variety of other measures, including enhanced information and consultation in mergers and takeovers.

Following agreement by all its internal factions, on 22 January 2002 the general council of the Greek Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE) decided on and announced its framework of demands for the 2002 banking sector collective agreement. In pay terms, OTOE believes, along with the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) (GR0201146N), that bargaining in 2002 must primarily be aimed at achieving real convergence of Greek employees' pay with EU averages. On other matters, the framework of demands for the new agreement is not substantially different from those made in 2001 (GR0102199N); however, it also makes an in-depth analysis of vital issues for the sector, such as the right to information and consultation in bank mergers and acquisitions.

Pay demands

With regard to the financial component of the banking sector agreement, OTOE is calling for an increase in basic national pay scales made up of the following components:

  • a corrective sum of around 0.5% for the loss of purchasing power resulting from the 2001 agreement, ie the difference between the 2001 pay increase and the inflation rate for 2001;
  • the expected average inflation rate for 2002, which will be around 3%, according to current estimates; and
  • a sum representing workers' contribution to the increase in the average productivity of the economy, taking 2001 (when the average productivity increase was about 4%) as a reference year.

Given the goal of real convergence of Greek pay with EU averages, the total increase demanded by the OTOE for 2002 is around 7%-8%.

Other issues

OTOE's most important non-pay demands include: working time; issues of employment and labour relations in special circumstances such as bank mergers and acquisitions; outsourcing; posting of employees; and voluntary retirement.

Reduction of working time

OTOE has revived its demand to reduce working time to 35 hours per week without loss of pay (GR9903117F and GR0102199N), but has proposed that this measure be implemented along with:

  • suitable regulations for compensation to be paid to staff who work more than 35 hours a week;
  • a clause reducing overtime exceeding maximum working hours by 20% a year and providing for new recruitment amounting to at least 5% of existing staff in each bank over the three years following the implementation of the 35-hour week; and
  • where necessary, recording and regulation at sectoral level of any existing special working hours arrangements for staff involved in meeting the special needs of bank customers.

Termination of open-ended contracts

OTOE proposes that, in addition to the conditions on termination of contract set by current collective agreements, works rules (the body of rules regulating relations between the employer and the workforce as regards the performance of work and discipline), regulations and legislation, the minimum requirement for the termination of open-ended employment contracts in the banking sector should be a 'well-grounded' decision by the relevant company's board of directors.

Consultation and information in mergers and acquisitions

In all mergers and acquisitions, in addition to the provisions of Presidential Decree 572/1988 relating to transfers of undertakings and Law 1876/1990 relating to collective bargaining, OTOE wants the acquiring bank to do the following when submitting its takeover plan:

  • state its intentions and make commitments about employment and career opportunities in the merged company;
  • specify and commit itself to the methods to be used to unify the different employment conditions and social insurance regimes into a single, generally accepted whole; and
  • ensure information and the participation of all interested parties (enterprise-level unions in both the acquired and the acquiring companies, and relevant second-level trade union organisation [ie federations or labour centres]) in creating the works rules and the new principles and systems of personnel management in the unified company.

In all cases, a 'non-regression' clause should safeguard staff's existing rights, particularly with reference to the ways and means of terminating individual employment contracts.

In the event that new works rules are created following the merger or acquisition of companies in the banking sector, OTOE is demanding that its representatives should take part in the relevant bargaining. If there is no union or works council in a company, the new works rules should be drawn up through bargaining between the company involved and OTOE. All other matters should be governed by the terms and conditions specified in Laws 1876/1990 and 2224/1994.

Outsourcing

According to OTOE, the widespread use by banks of employees hired out from other companies, who are employed under clearly inferior conditions of pay and employment and have unrestricted working hours, even in work that is manifestly the province of the banks, creates serious problems. These include fewer professional bank employees, less cohesion in the sector, reduced viability of social insurance funds and non-observance of the collective regulations for staff as a whole. On this basis, OTOE calls for subcontracting or outsourcing, particularly of banking work, to be carried out only in exceptional cases and allowed only in the following circumstances:

  • when it does not fulfil fixed, permanent needs of the companies involved, and in any case when the workers concerned are not performing banking work; and
  • when it does not replace or abolish the jobs of existing staff, but represents work or meets needs which cannot be met either by the existing staff or by engaging new staff in the relevant jobs or occupations.

Posting of employees

According to OTOE, banks should be able to post their staff to work in subsidiary companies only to meet emergency or temporary needs and on the following conditions:

  • the total time of the posting should not exceed four months, with the right to another two months' extension, following a justified decision by bank management; and
  • employment in the new job and company must be conditional upon the written consent of the person involved, and the new terms and conditions of pay and employment should in no case fall short of those to which the employee was subject before the transfer. If conditions are more favourable after the change, the employee should automatically be subject to them.

Voluntary retirement scheme

OTOE believes that during the current phase of bank restructuring, sell-offs and mergers, some banks use voluntary retirement as a means of getting rid of unwanted surplus staff. The new sectoral collective agreement should set a single minimum required framework of conditions and guarantees in this area for the whole sector, which meets at least the following requirements:

  • only those employees who have acquired minimum pension rights shall be subject to voluntary retirement schemes;
  • the employer shall undertake to pay to the relevant social insurance fund the contributions that would have been paid up to the time the employee would normally have retired, in accordance with the relevant service regulations or works rules; and
  • the amount paid by the employer in respect of an employee's voluntary retirement, in the case of an open-ended employment contract, shall be at least three times the severance pay to which the employee is entitled, in accordance with Law 2112/1920 on obligatory termination of employment contracts for private sector employees.

OTOE is again calling for the establishment of a bipartite employment committee in the banking sector (GR0102199N). Finally, as in 2001, other demands relate to education, equal opportunities, workplace health and safety, leave, extra pay and pay supplements.

Commentary

On the economic level, OTOE's framework of demands for 2002 falls within the framework of the demands made by GSEE for the new National General Collective Agreement. The main objective is the real convergence of Greek pay with EU averages. It should be noted that, according to OTOE estimates, the wages of employees in the sector, expressed in purchasing power units, lag behind EU averages by at least 25%-30%. However, the demand for real convergence of wages is expected to cause problems in bargaining, since it runs contrary to the rationale of banking employers' representatives, who contend that increased pay should go hand in hand with increase productivity, and not undermine the operation of the Greek economy. With regard to the non-pay part of the agreement, OTOE's framework of demands is without doubt an example of good practice, on the one hand because it broadens the scope of collective bargaining, and on the other because at many points it goes beyond the existing legislation. (Eva Soumeli, INE/GSEE-ADEDY)

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