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Bank of Israel governor David Klein recently asked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to set a new policy objective - the reduction of poverty. "We have to see how we can reduce the extent of poverty," Klein said.

Not long ago, Karnit Flug, head of the bank's research department, published a study on the causes of poverty. Another paper by the central bank examined the number of families living below the poverty line. Oh how sensitive they are there at the bank.

Poverty, however, is a relative term. It indicates the ever-growing gaps between the rich and the poor, with the poverty line standing at NIS 1,743 per person per month. The average monthly wage in the economy, published yesterday, is NIS 6,822.

So what is the bank doing about this? Are employees subsisting well there? According to a report by the wages director at the treasury, the highest wage earners in the public sector are not employees of the Ports Authority, the commercial banks or the Israel Electric Corporation - but rather those at the Bank of Israel.

The average monthly wage of the bank's 805 employees is NIS 21,000. The top 115 workers earn NIS 41,000 per month, and the eight members of the bank's management earn a monthly wage of NIS 52,000 - much more than their counterparts at the treasury. The new director-general at the Finance Ministry, Yossi Bachar, earns NIS 31,000 per month; while Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the prime minister earn NIS 33,000 and NIS 35,000 per month respectively.

But who are these freeloaders compared to the upper crust at the Bank of Israel? The bank's employees receive up to 100 various supplements that have inflated their wages over the years until they reached their current level.

There is, for example, the seniority supplement, which is calculated at a rate of 1.2 percent per year of work, as opposed to a rate of 1 percent in the civil service; and there's the "framework agreement supplement," which translates into an additional 23-34 percent. Then there is incentive pay, which is for attendance at work. There are reimbursements for traveling expenses and for car expenses that are clearly in excess of what is common in the civil service, and also full telephone maintenance plus 1,500 calls a month and unlimited cellular phone use.

The bank also marches on its stomach, so bank employees' lunches are 70-percent subsidized. There is also a "lunch supplement," which, in 2002, amounted to NIS 815. Bank employees are entitled to exaggerated paid vacation time for every family event, as well as more sick leave than other civil service employees. The bank does not, for example, count Fridays and Saturdays when calculating sick days.

Employees whose pay is on level 11 of the pay scale (there are 24 pay levels at the bank), are entitled to 16 days of recreation pay, while in the civil service the maximum rate is 13 days. The bank pays NIS 443 per recreation day, while the civil service pays NIS 341. The bank customarily gives each bank worker and pensioner an "events grant" for family events, in amount of NIS 680 per year. In addition, there are gifts for Hanukkah and Women's Day, and the rates for these gifts are much higher than in the civil service.

The bank shares in the expense of summer camps for bank employees and in the purchase of school books, and covers 80 percent of the cost of dental insurance for employees and their families. Department managers at the bank enjoy a 25-percent supplement beyond the highest pay level at the bank and automatic seniority of 40 years (regardless of their actual years of employment at the bank). The bank provides them with a car and they are also entitled to "car maintenance" of some 1,000 kilometers a month, which appears as "comparative value" on their pay slips. Long live the power of imagination.

Since the early 1990s, the director of wages at the treasury has been trying to lower wage levels at the central bank; but successive bank governors, including the current one, and the entire management of the bank oppose this with all their might. They talk about the independence of the bank, about administrative strength and agreements that were approved; but they are actually talking about their own wallets.

About a week ago, wages director Yuval Rachlevsky sent another letter to Klein, threatening to act in accordance with clause 29 of the law, which allows the director to cancel benefits and to demand the return of irregular sums already paid to employees. The threat (and public opinion) did the trick. Yesterday, Klein announced that he is ready to enter "a dialogue framework," after having refused to conduct negotiations until now.

The truth is that in a properly run country, there would not even be any negotiations. All the irregular agreements that had been "legally" signed would by ruled invalid in court because they contravene the regulations. When the wages and conditions at the Bank of Israel go down to a normal level, the bank's senior officials could seriously claim that they have contributed to social justice, equality and the fight against poverty - far more than all the articles and ideas that are published by the media.