Staffers Respond With Strike Threat

Israel Discount Bank employees are set to open a campaign today against management's decision to sell off the bank's provident and mutual funds. The struggle will include disrupting bank activity and closing branches to the public. Yesterday, the bank sold its provident funds to Clal Insurance for NIS 700 million and its mutual funds for NIS 600 million.

"No one from Discount's management spoke with the union about the sale of the funds, which employ 70 people," Discount Bank national union chief Rikki Bachar said. "The sale was closed behind the union's back, sentencing the workers in advance."

According to Rikki Bachar, it will be difficult for the fund staffers to find new employment. "They are relatively older workers whose professional specialty is provident and mutual funds. They cannot be moved to other jobs within the bank," Bachar said.

Bachar went on to say that the union is not only concerned about the fund employees' future, but also opposes the sale itself. "The sale of the provident and mutual funds is not good for the bank, as these entities contribute to profitability." Bachar added, "In any case, the Bachar Committee gave the banks six years to sell the funds. There is no justification for rushing to carry out the move."

The bank made the sale in accordance with the Bachar market reforms, named after Finance Ministry director general Joseph Bachar, who chaired a commission on banking reform.

In addition to the labor sanctions, the union's attorney plans to ask the Tel Aviv Labor Court for an injunction against the sale.

Besides the sale of the funds, there are several other unresolved issues dividing the union and management. Discount Bank staffers are demanding a 10 percent raise and a bonus of one month's salary, based on the bank's healthy 2004 net profit.

Bank management did not comment on the report regarding the industrial action. However, its legal counsel says the union has made a commitment to industrial calm and refraining from striking, at least until the sale of the bank to new controlling shareholder Matthew Bronfman closes.

Trouble appears likely at Union Bank of Israel too. Two key Union Bank labor unions agreed yesterday to oppose a likely merger between Union and Discount Bank.

"Insofar as it is up to the workers, Discount will not be able to take over Union Bank," Union clerks labor rep Yitzhak Mukmal said yesterday.

"Union, a relatively small and efficient bank, has valid justification to exist independently. The 1,100 staffers cooperated with management when the bank posted losses in 2004 and waived annual bonuses. Now we have 6.6 percent return on equity.

"Merging with Discount Bank would mean closing some Union branches, primarily those in close proximity to Discount branches, and laying off dozens or maybe hundreds of permanent employees. If the sale goes through, we will ask the Histadrut labor federation to declare a labor dispute that will allow us to strike."