GREECE - The Federation of Bank Employee Associations (OTOE) said it is on the warpath with government and employers over the sector’s unfunded pension liabilities.

OTOE president Dimitri Tsoukalas told IPE that after holding a general council meeting yesterday, the union has agreed on the possibility of calling for a strike over the lack of an agreement with banks and the government over the sector’s intended single auxiliary pension fund.

The fund would integrate the existing 11 supplementary pension funds, which overlap after a series of mergers.

“We have a casus belli,” Tsoukalas told IPE, referring to the Latin phrase meaning ‘cause for war’. “I don’t think there is a chance to agree and from the other side there is talk of legalising their own agreement through parliament.”

“We will not speak to the government unless they ask,” he said.

OTOE will be ready to strike if the government starts legislating to allow bilateral agreements with the Greek Agricultural Bank and Emporiki Bank. The state has stakes of over 80% and 45% in the two banks.

Tsoukalas said that such an agreement would lead to the setting up of a public fund. Emporiki declined to comment, ATE was not available for comment.

After months of bitter confrontation, OTOE, the banks and the government, have failed to find common ground. OTOE is lobbying for the single fund, which should be called ETAT, to be financed by banks. Bankers, in turn, want ETAT to be set up as a public fund.

The union, representing the majority of the 62,000-strong banking sector, is also asking for pension promises to remain unaltered for employees hired until 2005.

A solution is needed, as Greek banks will have to comply with new International Financial Reporting Standards by the end of June. This means they soon will have to report pension liabilities on their balance sheet, a prospect that could dent some banks’ capital base.

OTOE’s executive committee is to meet on Monday, at Tsoukalas’ request, to decide on the strike. Up to 50,000 bank employees are expected to join the action.

The ministry of economy and finance was unavailable for comment.