Israel Discount Bank workers are demanding that management enter into negotiations to set a wage hike for 2004-2005. National Workers' Committee chair Riki Bachar says that if employees' salaries are not raised he will ask the Histadrut labor federation to declare a work dispute at the bank, "and then we'll go back to the days of the strikes."

However, sources at Discount Bank said that bank workers had promised not to strike or disrupt customer service or any other operation of the bank until September 30. This promise came in the framework of a collective bargaining agreement which was signed this week between the employees, the state and bank management which allowed the sale of the state's controlling stake in the bank to Canadian businessman Matthew Bronfman.

The privatization agreement awarded Discount Bank's 5,500 workers as well as 1,200 workers at its Mercantile Discount Bank subsidiary a one-time grant of NIS 40,000-50,000. These sums are to be paid to workers after the final closing of the deal at the end of September.

Bachar said that the workers' demand for a wage hike had nothing to do with the promised privatization grant. "Bank Leumi workers received a salary increase of 4.25 percent several months ago, for 2005. We demand a much higher raise because we're talking about a period of two years. 2004 closed with the biggest profits Discount has ever achieved since its establishment and a rate of return of 9.3 percent. This is an appropriate reason to raise bank worker salaries."

Bachar declined to reveal how much of a raise the workers would be demanding in talks with management. "Thirteen Discount board members each received a one time bonus equivalent to three-and-a-half monthly wages. I won't allow a situation where there are blue bloods at the bank eligible for a handsome financial bonus while the commoners don't get anything."

Bachar said that the bank's labor agreement, which is expected to remain in force during the first five years after privatization, stipulates that bank management and workers' representatives enter periodic discussions regarding salaries.

Discount management said that negotiations would be opened in the near future regarding the wage agreement at the bank, "and we don't see any reason for tension between us and the workers committee."