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As industrial action heats up at Israel Discount Bank, the Israel Electric Corporation has warned its customers not to pay their bills at the bank's branches. The warning infuriated the bank.

The electricity utility warned its customers yesterday that those that do pay at Discount branches may find that their payment has been delayed by the staffers' go-slow and they may eventually find they have been charged for the delayed payment of their bills. The IEC went so far as to warn some customers that they could have their electricity cut off, despite paying the bill, "something that the Electric Corporation wants to avoid, in order to save our clients anguish and unnecessary trouble."

Any client that has paid their bill at Discount and receives such a warning note from the IEC is requested to call the electricity hotline 103.

Israel Discount Bank, which suffered closure of 40 selected branches yesterday as part of the staff's continuing protest against the bank's forthcoming privatization, expressed anger at the IEC's warning yesterday, dismissing it as "unnecessary" and as an attempt to use the industrial dispute to stir up public resentment.

"Transfer of payments by IEC clients through Discount Bank is being done in an orderly way," the bank's spokesman said yesterday.

Today the Discount staff are expected to close the bank's headquarters in Tel Aviv, which deals mostly with the bank's largest customers. Tomorrow, the workers will up their action and will shut the doors on 80 of the bank's 120 branches countrywide.

Talks between the striking workers and M.I. Holdings, the public body that deals with privatization on behalf of the state, are expected to restart tonight. The head of the bank's workers committee Ricki Bachar and the head of the banking section at the Histadrut labor federation, Zion Shema, will attend. There was no progress in talks held last weekend.

The workers are demanding that their collective work agreements remain in place after the sale to a private concern, and they are also demanding that the new owner be forbidden from selling bank assets for the first five years.