Moshe Gafni and Smadar Barber-Tsadik
Moshe Gafni and Smadar Barber-Tsadik Photo by Emil Salman, Ofer Vaknin
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The Knesset Finance Committee called on the management of the First International Bank of Israel (Beinleumi ) yesterday morning to enter negotiations with employees, end the strike and put a stop to customers' suffering.

Bank management and workers should go to arbitration, committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism ) said during yesterday's session. Gafni also complained about the fact that Beinleumi CEO Smadar Barber-Tsadik had not attended the session.

"While the finance committee does not have the authority to make decisions on labor disputes, it needs to assert its public influence," said Gafni.

Bank employees have been on strike for 11 days and prior to that disrupted services through various work sanctions. The workers' main demands are for larger bonuses for 2009. Management granted workers bonuses equivalent to one monthly salary for last year's profits, but the union is demanding bonuses of at least one and a half to two monthly salaries - similar to those granted at Bank Leumi.

Beinleumi employees are also demanding more manpower at individual branches, saying they are overburdened with work. In addition, they want the bank to stop employing temps, such as students, and are calling for changes in the bank's aggressive marketing policies, which the union says harms workers' rights.

"We do not need to help the bank's management or employees in this case," Gafni said, but added that he would like to see the strike end without the workers being harmed.

"There is no precedent for an 11-day strike in the banking system. I cannot remember such damage inflicted on customers, who cannot withdraw money and have been left twisting in the wind in terms of everything concerning banking activities," said Gafni.

Gafni said customers should not have to pay the price for the labor dispute, and said he had spoken to Histadrut labor federation chairman Ofer Eini on the matter, as well as with Supervisor of Banks Rony Hizkiyahu. The Histadrut officially gave its support to the strike, making it legal, and the union waited out the mandatory 14-day cooling off period before striking. Both clerks and middle management are on strike.

Beinleumi branches remain completely closed; there are no teller services and investment advisers are also on strike. The bank's ATMs are working, but because employees are not refilling the cash machines, customers who can only withdraw cash from Beinleumi ATMs have often been unable to do so. Customers who manage their stock and bond portfolios through the bank cannot buy or sell securities either.