Banks Attempt to Avert Strike

The Banks Association will petition the National Labor Court today in an attempt to avoid a banking sector strike set to start Sunday.

Some 40,000 employees of all commercial banks, the Bank of Israel, and the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange have declared an indefinite strike from Sunday to protest the government's plans to implement the Bachar recommendations for capital market reforms. The workers particularly object to the recommendation forbidding banks from owning provident and mutual funds, a market they currently dominate, at the expense of smaller, private brokerages and fund managers. Chairman of the First International Bank workers' union, Hanoch Livne, said the reforms will lead to a 10-percent job loss in the sector.

In approaching the Labor Court, Banks Association representative Nahum Feinberg said the banks themselves are critical of the Bachar reforms, "but this is a reckless, political mega-strike that will cause grave harm to both the banks and their businesses."

Over 1,000 bank branches will be closed starting Sunday, and ATMs will not be replenished, according to Zion Shema of the Histadrut labor federation's bank section. Banks' online and phone facilities also will not be operating, he added.

MK Daniel Benlulu (Likud) yesterday failed to convince the Histadrut to call off the strike. The bank workers, however, are remaining firm, saying they will call off the strike only when the Finance Ministry agrees to withdraw the Bachar reforms from a Knesset debate scheduled for May 16.

"The legislation will not be frozen," the treasury said yesterday. "The aim of the Bachar committee recommendations is a reform that will open the capital market to competition, vital for the development of the economy. The extreme response of the [banks] workers' committee is unjustified, because the reforms will not harm the banks, and in fact, no job losses are expected."