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Bank Discount decided this week to expand its voluntary retirement program for long-term employees, which was launched in January.

The decision was made by the bank's board of directors at the first meeting convened by chairman Shlomo Zohar since the sale of the bank to the Bronfman Group.

The bank is adding an additional NIS 200 million to the early retirement war chest, which originally held NIS 50 million. The initial plan was offered to just 1,400 employees of the bank's Tel Aviv headquarters, and taken up by just 50. The expanded program will be available to 2,500 branch workers throughout the country who are over the age of 50 have worked at least 20 years at the bank.

The deal allows workers to retire with 175 percent of the severance pay they would receive otherwise. The retirement payment costs will be added to the bank's 2005 financial reports.

The program's expansion was initiated by the bank's union on the grounds that it was unfair to offer it only to employees at the Tel Aviv main office.

In addition to the increased severance package, employees who take up early retirement are expected to receive their share of the privatization bonus - NIS 50,000 per person, on average - that will be given to all Discount workers.

The early retirement plan is one aspect of the bank's structural reorganization, which aims to increase Discount's market share in the retail bank sector this year. The program also includes a round of new appointments in the bank's various divisions and the planned opening of between 15 and 20 new branches over the next year.