Israel Discount Bank is being denounced by labor and women's activists after asking 150 untenured workers, 10 of them pregnant or on maternity leave, to sign a form consenting to being fired at the end of the month because of the bank's planned merger with Discount Mortgage Bank.

The merger is due at the end of the month and Discount Bank is dismissing workers who have been employed for less than five years.

About a month ago the bank offered workers who are pregnant or on maternity leave "improved retirement conditions" if they sign a form consenting to be fired. The conditions include a grant of two or three paychecks and social welfare benefits during their maternity leave.

Israeli law forbids firing a pregnant woman, a woman on maternity leave or one who resumed work less than 60 days after taking maternity leave, without the Industry, Trade and Employment Ministry's approval.

"We all want to continue working after maternity leave, but they made it clear to us there is no such option," a woman who has worked as a clerk in the bank for two years said.

"I am in advanced pregnancy and the compensation is good but it won't help me find another job after giving birth. It's hard finding a job with a newborn infant, employers don't like hiring new mothers," she said.

Some of the women asked Itach - Women Lawyers for Social Justice for help. The advocacy group asked Discount CEO Reuven Spiegel and Discount Mortgage CEO Eti Langerman to reconsider the move.

"The requests we've received show the women have been pressured to sign the 'dismissal' forms, which are in fact dismissal notices and an infringement on their rights," Itach wrote to the banks.

"The goings on in Bank Discount demonstrate how employment that denies workers' rights pushes workers in general and women in particular to the fringes of the labor market and society," said Itach attorney Keren Shemesh-Perlmutter.

"The women were first harmed because they were employed as 'temporary workers' devoid of rights, although in practice they were doing the job of regular employees. They were further harmed by being dismissed during their pregnancy, a time when they need work more than ever. The bank would do well to stop employment practices intended solely to make profits at the workers' expense," she said.

Bank Discount said: "Contrary to the claims, nobody forced or pressured any worker to sign a resignation form or any form consisting of waiving rights, especially workers who may not be legally fired. The argument that the bank is acting against the law is groundless." The bank offered some of the workers jobs after they quit and return from maternity leave under a new contract. However, they were told the seniority they amassed during their work prior to the merger would no longer be recognized.

"They said I could return to work until the end of the year without the seniority I have accumulated," a woman employed in the bank for two years said. "This is causing me a lot of pressure, not knowing if I'll have a job or not after giving birth."