Court Puts Discount Strike in Three-day Holding Pattern

Labor disputes at Israel Discount Bank and Bank Leumi went in different directions yesterday, as a labor court judge prevented Discount workers from striking while Leumi staff shocked their employers by shutting down all branches nationwide.

The Tel Aviv regional labor court yesterday issued a temporary injunction preventing Israel Discount Bank workers from disrupting bank activities, valid through tomorrow night. Judge Ilan Itah issued his ruling after the bank's management sought a restraining order following weeks of such actions. According to management representative Yaakov Malishkevitch, the workers' slowdowns have caused the bank serious damage, despite their pledge to continue working until completion of the bank's sale.

Judge Itah explained that he handed down the three-day injunction to make time to learn both sides of the issue. The two sides disagree on the real reason for the work disruptions. The judge will hold the principal hearing tomorrow on Discount's petition to forbid employees from holding work actions.

Discount workers struck yesterday at the three major branches: in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. They claim the reason for their actions was the management's decision to sell the bank's provident and mutual funds. The bank union's legal adviser, Beni Cohen, said: "The bank's management decided to sell the funds not according to labor law [or] guaranteeing work conditions and security to the 70 employees hired by these funds."

However, Discount mangement claims that the real reason that employees are taking work actions is not the sale of the funds, but rather the lack of agreement regarding the union's various demands: a 10 percent salary hike and a one-month salary's bonus for the bank's 2004 net profit results.

Meanwhile, Leumi workers shut down all bank branches yesterday for the second time in a week. The bank's union planned the strike in secret and surprised management with it.

This strike also included 350 workers from the Arab Israel Bank, Leumi's subsidiary of 24 branches, which is also slated for privatization.

Leumi management said yesterday that recently some progress had been made regarding worker's demands. "We reached the moment of opening the envelopes for the Leumi sale tender, and despite the positive atmosphere, we hadn't reached the desired results," said union head Louis Roth. "Thus, we are still warning that privatization won't be realized and potential investors are endangering their money as long as workers' rights are not fully guaranteed."

The Leumi employees list three demands ahead of privatization: stock options for 6 percent of the bank's shares; a one-time bonus of NIS 40,000-50,000 per worker; and an extension of their collective employment agreement by 5-7 years.