Thu, Jan 04, 2007 - Page 12 News List

Industrial trouble hounds Bank of Overseas Chinese

NEXT STEP The firing of two union organizers has precipitated an industrial showdown that promises to drag in the national federation of bank unions

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

Confrontation between management and the union at the Bank of Overseas Chinese (華僑銀行) took a new twist yesterday as union leaders said they will launch a series of protests against two allegedly illegal layoffs.

"We did not do anything wrong but the bank fired me and another union leader without reason," Chen Hui-chih (陳惠治), former acting president of the bank's industrial union, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The Bank of Overseas Chinese fired Chen and another member of the union on Tuesday allegedly because they had incited employees to call a strike through illegitimate means and posed a risk to the company's image and reputation, which the bank said violated its code of conduct and related industrial policies.

"The bank is using improper layoffs to put fear into the employees," Chen said.

Chen said he raised the issue with the labor affairs authorities and will launch a series of protests against the bank and its owner, Polaris Group (寶來集團), with the help from the national union federation.

The National Federation of Bank Employees Unions (銀行員工會全聯會) said it would hold a press conference today to comment on the matter.

The federation said in a statement yesterday that it would also ask the financial regulator not to approve the bank's sale to likely buyer Citibank.

The union has threatened in the past to take industrial action if management refused to sign an agreement guaranteeing job security for bank employees in the event of a Citibank takeover.

In response, the bank said a few union members had manipulated the union to oppose management, regardless of the fact that a survey showed that more than 95 percent of employees agreed with the bank's proposed compensation program.

Bank of Overseas Chinese spokesman Weng Chien (翁健) said the company had been patient with the two union leaders and had shown them goodwill with an offer of early retirement, which they turned down.

"We have to do something to stop more damage to the bank as a whole or we will be letting our shareholders and customers down," Weng said.

The labor union's opposition has intensified since the fourth quarter of last year with extensive coverage in the press of drawn-out investment talks between Citibank and the Bank of Overseas Chinese.

"The deal is still in the pipe-line," Weng said.

The executive downplayed the union issue, saying that it was not a major problem that could disrupt the deal. He declined to comment further, citing a confidentiality agreement.

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