Bank of Israel employees said Tuesday they declared a labor conflict due to the central bank's decision to end certain bonuses that were determined by Finance Ministry wage supervisor Eli Cohen and his predecessors to be "beyond public sector norms" and in anticipation of reorganization efforts which they believe will lead to the layoffs of "masses of workers."
The declaration must still receive approval from the Histadrut labor union before a strike may be called, said workers committee chairperson Rimona Leibowitz, formerly Bank of Israel deputy spokeswoman.
While benefits and bonuses are under discussion between the Bank and the Treasury, no collective wage agreement is in effect, preventing workers from preemptively retiring, Leibowitz said.
On the controversial benefits the Bank was ordered to stop, Leibowitz said: "For years, the Bank of Israel has operated in accordance with a labor constitution and agreements that the workers signed with the management. Then one day, the wage supervisor comes and decides that [those agreements] are illegal, since they did not pass his approval ... As a result of this announcement by the wage supervisor, the management is unilaterally breaking its agreements with us."
Leibowitz further accused the wage supervisor of "falsifying facts" in its June report showing Bank of Israel workers receive the highest wages and benefits in the public sector, "with the intention to smear the Bank of Israel as part of [the Treasury's] war against the Bank of Israel."
In its calculations, she said, the wage supervisor took advantage of the fact that many workers chose to retire in 2004 in order to avoid reforms forced on the bank by the Supervisor, which led to a peak in benefits payments that the Supervisor then calculated as part of the wage.
"What is shown in the wage supervisor's report is a lie, and they also know it. They know that they falsified data ... Our wages in the bank are nice - as befitting our training, seniority and status - but are certainly not corrupt," Leibowitz added.
In response, the Finance Ministry said it was "ready, willing and interested in a wage agreement, but on the condition that it will not deviate in the slightest from public norms and conditions as practiced in the public sector, which is [financed from] tax payers' money. The wage supervisor will act in accordance with the Attorney General and in the spirit of the State Comptroller's report [on Bank of Israel wages] in order to arrive at a proper and appropriate wage agreement in the public service, but will not condone wage additions that deviate from the rules of correct administration and fail under any public examination."
The Bank of Israel said the workers' declaration of the dispute was "superfluous in light of the fact that we are in the final stages of negotiations, and mainly in light of the personal entry of Histadrut Chairman [Ofer Eini] into discussions toward completion of the negotiations."
Contacts between the sides were to continue over the coming days.