(Adds comments from union representatives in eighth paragraph)
By Stelios Orphanides
Government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said President Nicos Anastasiades has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to protect the 2,650 Co-op workers’ rights during a meeting with workers’ unions at the presidential palace on Thursday.
With negotiations between Hellenic Bank, Cyprus’s third-largest lender, and the state-owned, second-largest Cypriot bank, being “in their final stage” and their conclusion expected “any hour now,” talks with the unions will continue over the coming days, “provided we have the agreement on the future of the Cooperative Bank,” Prodromou told reporters, according to a transcript of his comments emailed by the Press and Information Office.
He said that a number of the co-op workers will continue working for Hellenic after the bank acquires part of the bailed-out bank’s operations, which includes its performing loan portfolio and its deposits, the spokesman added after Anastasiades met a delegation of SEK, PEO, Pasydy and Etyk. Another section of the co-op workers will be employed in the entity that will manage the co-op’s non-performing loan portfolio of over €6bn.
Hellenic is also expected to acquire bonds worth over €4bn issued in favour to the co-op by the government, which bailed it out in 2013 and owns more than 99 per cent of its capital.
“We will, therefore, have the specific details and data after we have reached an agreement,” Prodromou said.
“We must stress that the agreement has not been concluded so everything we say is subject to the agreement being reached on the transformation of the Cyprus Cooperative Bank and the absorption of part of its operations by another bank,” he continued. “The finance minister informed unions on the course of the negotiations noting that part of the talks are labour issues and the workers’ rights”.
“It was useful that there was a preliminary meeting with the unions ahead of the agreement, because the president of the Republic, the finance minister and the government in general, want to be on the same wavelength with unions given that it is the government’s position and its pursuit to safeguard workers’ rights at the co-op”.
While comments made by most union representatives who participated in the meeting were in line with those of Prodromou, Loizos Hadjicostis, the honorary chairman of bank workers’ union Etyk which is known for its tough rhetoric, said that it would be “impermissible for any firings and blackmails to happen this day at a state-owned bank”.
A voluntary retirement scheme that will allow up to 1,000 Co-op workers who will neither join Hellenic after the deal and will not continue at the corporation that will succeed the Co-op, managing its bad loans, “must be attractive, similar to schemes offered by other banks and were crowned by success so that we can solve the problem successfully and can be optimistic about the future,” Hadjicostis added.
The secretary general of PEO Pambis Kyritsis said that the minimum requirement is to see that none of the affected workers will be victimised.
A consultation will show “what the needs of this scheme are” and added that Anastasiades said that the government will look into it favourably, leader of PEO which is affiliated with Akel added.
Andreas Matsas, who heads SEK, a union representing mainly Disy and Diko supporters, said that after the government reaffirmed its commitment to protect workers, “we will engage in intensive talks over the next days with the Cyprus Cooperative Bank to agree on the provisions in the areas concerning the final scheme”.
Last, the secretary general of Pasydy, the union representing mainly public employees and also counts Co-op staffers among its members said that while the final agreement is pending, “intentions are good”.