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In a worsening of industrial relations at United Mizrahi Bank, management stopped workers who had attended a protest meeting from returning to work.

Thirty-two of the 40 members of staff at the bank's call center who had attended a protest meeting during work hours were met by representatives of Mizrahi management when they returned to their offices yesterday in Tel Aviv, who told them to leave.

The workers - all of whom are on temporary contracts - were told that unless they committed in writing not to leave their work stations in future to attend protest meetings, or for any other reason, they would not be taken back. Simultaneously, Mizrahi set up an alternative call center, operated by other members of staff.

Chair of the Mizrahi workers committee, Sara Lazarovitz, said yesterday, "Not permitting a worker to go back to work after leaving to take part in an explanatory meeting of the [workers] committee is against the law."

She added that she believed the bank's management was out to escalate the dispute at Mizrahi, but she hoped the management would retract from its position taken yesterday.

Mizrahi workers have been in a protracted dispute with the bank's management since it announced its merger with its Tefahot mortgage subsidiary.