Bank Workers Say Strike Will Go Ahead

The Clerks Union and the various bank workers unions announced yesterday that they are still planning to strike all banks and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, despite an injunction issued by the National Labor Court Saturday night, forbidding them from launching a general strike yesterday.

National Labor Court Vice President Elisheva Barak scheduled a further hearing for Wednesday, to be attended by the Finance Ministry, the Histadrut labor federation and the Association of Banks.

Histadrut and bank union members said yesterday that there is still a chance a strike will be called after this hearing, "even though it is the eve of the [Passover] holiday."

The unions decided on the strike to protest the bank reforms recommended by a commission headed by treasury director general Joseph Bachar. The proposed reform would remove provident and mutual funds from the banks and transfer them to insurance companies and brokers, to increase competition. Workers committees said the reform would lead to 4,000 layoffs, or 10 percent of all employees.

A bill incorporating the Bachar recommendations goes before the Knesset for its first reading next month.

The injunction ordered workers to refrain from striking and to ensure that customers receive all services at all bank branches around the country. However, the court also criticized the behavior of treasury representatives since the publication of the Bachar report. The judges found particularly disturbing the fact that treasury representatives at Saturday night's hearing could not detail the possible implications of the reforms on the capitals market or possible dismissals in the banking sector.

The court ordered Bachar and the Finance Ministry's supervisor of capital markets, Eyal Ben Chelouche, to attend Wednesday's hearing, along with the head of the Bank Association and Clerks Union head Leon Morozovsky.

"The government is in a hurry to complete all the preparations and turn the Bachar recommendations into law. We cannot wait any longer, or we will miss the boat," said the head of Discount Bank's workers union Ricki Bachar.

Former Bank of Israel governor David Klein said yesterday that "the unions are wrong in thinking that the capital markets reform will lead to dismissals." He believes that under the Bachar reforms, the provident and mutual funds will indeed be moved away from the banks, but the banks will continue to market these funds and there will thus be no change in the level of the workload for the banks.