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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Jerusalem District Labor Court on Wednesday ordered Bank of Israel employees and pensioners to pay back excessive salaries and pension contributions deemed improper retroactively from 1998, finally putting an end to the protracted five-year-old wage dispute saga between the Finance Ministry and the central bank workers' union.
Jerusalem District Labor Judge Eyal Avrahami, the arbitrator fighting out the outstanding differences standing in the way of the implementation of the new wage agreement, ruled in favor of the Finance Ministry's requests in four out of the five points of disputes between the two parties.
"Central bank employees are doing an important job and there is no doubt that the dispute has damaged the bank's employees," said the court. "It is hoped that now, after the dispute has been resolved, the bank's workers will be able to return to do their excellent work as in the past."
In March last year, Bank of Israel employees declared a work slowdown and conducted a walkout over the wage dispute, refusing to conduct monetary tenders or provide information to commercial banks and management. Only in December 2007, after years of failing to come to a deal, the central bank signed a new wage agreement, but five points of dispute remained open and were transferred to Avrahami for settlement. The main sticking point in the wage negotiations has circled around the date of retroactive payments demanded by the Finance Ministry from current and former central bank officials, who, for years, had been receiving excessive pay and illegal benefits.
Avrahami ruled that excessive payments and pension contributions received unlawfully by central bank employees will have to be repaid retroactively from 1998. The Bank of Israel had requested retroactive payments to apply only from 2005, which would have amounted to insubstantial sums. The Finance Ministry had estimated that over NIS 100 million in excess pay has been received illegally by the central bank's 700 employees. Since Avrahami is acting as an arbitrator between the Finance Ministry and the Bank of Israel in the salary dispute, his decision can not be revoked or appealed.
Avrahami also decided to revoke unlawful benefits enjoyed by former and current central bank workers, such as different types of additional vacations, including reimbursement for sick days and unused holidays paid into pensions before retirement, and the promotion of two additional salary grades upon retirement, instead of the one granted to most civil servants. In addition, it was decided that current and veteran central bank employees on a contributory pension scheme, which means that they make provisions into a pension fund, will not be entitled to the same retirement conditions as those who have a state-funded budgetary pension scheme.
"Following the end of the year-long work dispute resulting in the implementation of a new wage agreement, the bank is embarking on a new path, which includes a reorganization, to make it a more modern and transparent bank, based on public norms and professionalism, as is accepted in developed nations," said the Bank of Israel in an official response to the court's decision. "At the same time, the bank is working together with the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister to advance the new Bank of Israel Law."
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