Controversy over sectoral bargaining in banking

In early summer 2008, after refusing to enter into the bargaining process over a new sectoral collective agreement for the banking industry, two of the Greece’s biggest banks announced unilateral pay rises for their staff. The Greek Federation of Bank Employee Unions (OTOE) has accused employers of attempting to abolish sectoral bargaining and weaken the trade union movement, and has called protest strikes.

Legal framework for bargaining in banking

Law 1876/1990 on collective bargaining stipulates that, if there is no employer organisation in the banking sector, the sectoral collective agreement should be concluded by a joint representative of the employers that has been authorised by individual employers employing at least 70% of the employees in the sector

Since Law 1876/1990 came into effect, the collective agreement for the banking sector has been concluded on employees' side by representatives of the Greek Federation of Bank Employee Unions (Ομοσπονδία Τραπεζοϋπαλληλικών Οργανώσεων Ελλάδας, OTOE) and on the employers' side by the Hellenic Bank Association (Ελληνική Ένωση Τραπεζών, HBA), after an authorisation has been provided by the individual employers. The HBA is the representative body for financial institutions operating in Greece but, according to its statutes, it is not an employer organisation.

National Bank and Alpha Bank grant unilateral pay rises

Since 2006, the procedure for concluding sectoral collective agreements in banking has been patchy, since some of the biggest banks have refused to issue authorisations. In 2006, after an intervention by the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection (Υπουργείο Απασχόλησης και Κοινωνικής Προστασίας, ΥΡΑΚΡ), a tripartite conciliation process was embarked upon, which ended in the signing of a two-year sectoral collective agreement (GR0602105N, GR0701059I). In 2008, two of the biggest banks, after refusing to negotiate, have granted pay increases unilaterally.

In May 2008, when invited by OTOE to begin collective bargaining leading up to the signing of a sectoral agreement, the heads of some of the biggest Greek banks - National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, Eurobank and others - refused to issue the required authorisations to HBA.

The management of National Bank of Greece (Εθνική Τράπεζα της Ελλάδας, ΕΤΕ), following its refusal to bargain, announced unilateral increases in employees’ pay, in a message sent to each individual employee by email. A few days later Alpha Bank also announced unilateral pay increases.

By mid-2008, banks representing 50% of bank employees had provided authorisations to bargain. An authorisation from ΕΤΕ, which employs 23.57% of all bank employees in Greece, would be sufficient to raise the figure to the required 70%.

Employers' and unions' views

The managements of the banks concerned have made no official announcement about their refusal to enter into bargaining or about the unilateral pay increases. Press reports state that the management of ΕΤΕ argues that the banks have conflicting interests and can no longer agree jointly on employees’ pay increases, as was the case years ago when most banks were state controlled.

OTOE argues that the actions of the banks' managements aim to abolish sectoral bargaining and put bank employees in a situation of total subjection to managerial prerogative. OTOE has also presented data indicating that banks’ after-tax profits rose by 55% in 2007, and by more than 100% in some cases. The unions called lending rates to businesses excessive, adding that Greek banks’ return on equity is 26%, compared to an average figure of 17.4% for the EU, and only 12.2% for Germany, 14.3% for Denmark and 14.8% for France.

OTOE called rotating regional strikes on 10, 13 and 20 June in banks that did not provide authorisations to bargain and is also organising information campaigns for employees and the public.

The Greek General Confederation of Labour (Γενική Συνομοσπονδία Εργατών Ελλάδας, GSEE) has expressed its full support for OTOE.

UNI Europa, bringing together bank workers’ unions across Europe, has also expressed support for OTOE. It claimed in a resolution that the employers’ objective is to split the trade union movement in the banking sector, which has always been the “spearhead” of the Greek labour movement.

Commentary

Developments in the current dispute in banking are of particular importance, since they are expected to strongly influence the future of collective bargaining in this important sector.

Sofia Lampousaki, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE)

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