17 First International Bank Branches to Close Today as Staffers Go on Strike

All 17 First International Bank of Israel branches that are usually open on Friday will be closed today, due to an ongoing labor dispute.

However, FIBI's management said that customers still will be able to conduct business via the bank's call center and Internet site. Alternatively, they can go to one of the 14 branches of Bank Poaley Agudat Israel, a FIBI subsidiary, which will be open as usual today.

Worker and management representatives met yesterday but failed to resolve the dispute. The meeting was attended by head of the Histadrut labor federation's bank workers division, Zion Shema; First International's vice president for human resources, Yair Yitzhaki; and Yona Goldschlager, chairman of the Committee of Managers and Authorized Signatories, one the two workers' committees involved in the dispute. The other is the Clerks Committee.

The dispute revolves around the payment of an annual bonus to workers. Managers and authorized signatories are demanding a bonus equivalent to one month's salary based on the bank's net earnings for 2003 and 2004, which totaled NIS 156 million and NIS 250 million, respectively. Clerks already have been paid a bonus for 2003, which was based on overtime hours rather than the bank's profits, but they are demanding a profit-linked bonus for 2004.

FIBI's management objects to paying any bonus on the grounds that the bank's return on capital in both 2003 and 2004 was too low to justify such a payment. It has offered to pay the workers an advance on the anticipated bonus for 2005, which would normally be paid in 2006, but both workers' committees rejected this offer.

"Management is mistaken if it thinks we will break," Goldschlager said yesterday. "If there is no progress, we will intensify the sanctions. The time has come for the bank's owners to start worrying about their asset."

In response, FIBI's management said: "The closure of the bank's branches is a grave act that cannot be accepted. Workers who strike will have their paychecks deducted accordingly. The [workers'] committees are interested in intensifying the dispute, despite management's efforts to meet them part of the way. Management will not give in to demands that are neither logical nor legitimate, particularly in light of the real increase in the bank's wage costs in 2003 and 2004."