FBME workers defiant as Iacovides demands pass codes (Update-2)

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(Adds comment by workers in eleventh paragraph)

By Stelios Orphanides and Evie Andreou

The Central Bank-appointed special administrator of FBME Bank said on Wednesday that some of the laid off bank workers’ demands can be met but warned them to avoid ‘non-constructive steps’ including refusal to hand over access codes to up to €1.4bn in customer deposits.

The Central Bank decision to revoke the lender’s banking licence as part of its authority to exercise its legal powers, led “in a drastic way to the termination of the FBME Cyprus branch,” he said in a written statement in which he explained his position.

As a result, employment contracts of all branch employees have been drastically affected, the administrator said.

Chris Iacovides sent letters of dismissal on March 31 to 136 FBME’s workers in Cyprus and kept 30 at their position to help with the pay-out of deposits to the bank’s customers after the central bank triggered the depositors’ compensation scheme. His decision prompted a strike by the workers on Monday. The central bank revoked the licence for the Cyprus branch of Tanzania-based lender last December and triggered the depositor compensation scheme last weekend which provides for payouts of deposits of up to €100,000.

“It’s about a cancellation of the purpose and the nature of the employment contracts which affects, because of an event beyond of the parties’ control, (and) effectively terminates the employment contract automatically at the time the event occurred,” Iacovides said. He added that as a result of the current circumstances “the obligations of the (contract) parties cease to exist” and as a result this cannot be not deemed a dismissal or resignation.

“This doesn’t mean that any amount due to any affected person will not be paid as the law prescribes,” he said, adding that the special administration (of FBME) has acted in a transparent manner.

Iacovides added that he was in consultations with workers and authorities involved from the very beginning.

Earlier, Iacovides said that workers will receive “whatever the (labour) law provides” such as dues proportional to their remaining vacation and thirteenth salary without making any reference to the notice until dismissal.

Pregnant workers and mothers on maternity leave will receive “something on top if they are entitled to that according to the law,” he said.`
Iacovides ruled out the revocation of the dismissal of two FBME employees fired on March 29, saying that they “had deceived him”. Stephanos Skordis, a lawyer representing the vast majority of the dismissed and striking workers said that “no misconduct occurred” that justified their dismissal.

At a press conference on Wednesday the FBME workers said that the dismissal of the two workers came after they turned down the administrator’s demand to provide him the access codes to the bank’s deposits.

Skordis said that after meeting Central Bank officials on Monday to whom he explained his clients’ demands he got the impression that the supervisory authority’s “reaction was not negative”.

The workers’ lawyer added that his clients also demand their dues including notice, remaining holiday pay and thirteenth salary, as well as their bonus for 2013 and 2014, plus the revocation of the dismissal of pregnant employees and of those in maternity leave.

“Since you still keep 30 workers in employment, you should also keep the mothers and pregnant ones,” he said. “But there can always be an alternative remedy and their compensation is based on a different formula”.

Skordis said that Iacovides’ predecessor as administrator of the bank, Andrew Andronicou, had signed an agreement with Fadi Michel Saab, one of FBME’s shareholders, which stipulates the amounts payable to workers as bonus.

At their Wednesday press conference, the FBME employees said that during a meeting they had with central bank officials on Tuesday, they were told that Iacovides is willing to pay them part of their demands, in exchange for the pass codes to the bank’s system. One of the employees’ lawyers, Stylianos Christoforou, said that Iacovides threatened to fire the remaining 30 if his proposal was not accepted, and that the CBC would take them to court to get the codes.

Employees also demanded that Iacovides withdrew the dismissal letters he gave to their two colleagues who refused to hand over the requested codes, “as they were only doing their job”.

FBME employee George Hinis, said that even though the bank’s licence was revoked in December, the bank system is still online, and interest and charges are applied on customer accounts. He said that many cheques were also issued which have not been cashed.

Unless all accounts are updated, Hinis said, then the CBC will not have the correct data and will not pay each depositor the correct amount they are entitled to.

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