Association of banks criticizes planned protest by employees

The Arab Bank is seen in Beirut, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The Association of Banks in Lebanon lashed out at the bank workers’ union, accusing employees of making unrealistic demands as they gear up to bring their protests to Beirut Friday afternoon.

“The collective labor contract cannot and should not include, in theory, anything but the minimum conditions applicable by all banks regardless of their size,” a statement by the ABL said.

“In spite of the escalatory tone of the Union of Bank Employees’ Associations and the fact that it does not enjoy full representation of workers in the sector, we will continue to deal [with them] positively,” the statement added.

Lebanon’s banks and their employees have been in lengthy negotiations that have so far failed to reach agreement on a new collective pact despite mediation by the Labor Ministry and the Central Bank.

The last version of the contract, which for decades governed work relations in Lebanon’s vital banking sector, expired in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“Delegates of employees’ unions have put forward a series of new unrealistic demands ... as if their intention was to take negotiations back to square one,” the ABL statement said in reference to the last mediation session held at the Labor Ministry on Mar. 28.

It accused the employees’ union of backing down from an agreed compromise deal mediated by Central Bank Vice Governor Saad Andari.

George Hajj, head of the Federation of Bank Employees’ Unions, told The Daily Star that the group had not received the full details of Andari’s proposal. He added that it had only given a preliminarily agreement to some of the ideas in the proposal.

Hajj said the group would not accept any settlement that slashed any of the benefits present in the expired collective contract.

He added that other non-negotiable demands included a biennial 3 percent merit wage hike, adjusting educational allowances for inflation, and the full implementation of postretirement health insurance by all banks.

Hajj also said the group was not ready to negotiate on extending the working hours of employees beyond 35 hours a week.

Asked about the preparations for the Friday protest in Beirut, Hajj expected wide participation, vowing that the employees’ union would take escalatory steps until their demands were met.

The ABL statement said banks had upheld employee benefits in spite of the expiration of the contract and had kept wages in the sector among the highest in Lebanon.

It said that the banking sector hired more than 5,000 employees in the last five years and now provided decent livelihoods to over 23,000 families.

“The average cost of every employee in the sector has increased to about LL65 million a year,” the statement said. This figure includes the basic salary, health benefits and educational allowances.

Bank employees kick-started protests on March 18, holding a sit-in in Tripoli, where around 400 bank employees gathered in the city’s Banks’ Street and then marched to the Central Bank’s branch in the city.

The employees have said before that they would go on strike if no agreement was reached.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 05, 2013, on page 5.




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