Threats, poor wages and deteriorating conditions: the reality of Belgian bank KBC in the Czech Republic
KBC employees in the Czech Republic call on KBC to reaffirm its commitment to collective bargaining, both in Belgium and Central Europe during the next round of negotiations on 26th April.
“Currently the Czech management seems to have changed its attitude about engaging with us and our union. They will not listen to us, and they are refusing to negotiate with us like partners,” said Lada Spielbergerová, Chairwoman of the Modern Union in ČSOB, one of the largest commercial banks operating in the Czech Republic and owned by Belgian KBC.
“We simply want KBC to treat us in a way that is more in line with the values they profess, like respect for stakeholders, including employees,” Spielbergerová continued. “Good social relations have contributed to the bank being a good point of reference in Belgium, so why can’t it be the same for us in the Czech Republic? We do the same work and deserve the same respect.”
“We are looking for social dialogue with the company. In the past several years, we have seen wages and working conditions decline while our workloads have increased. The economy is strong, [MC1] but the bank keeps squeezing the workers,” Spielbergerová continued.
A 20 year veteran of the banking sector, Spielbergerová says frontline bank employees, call centre employees and support department employees don’t make enough to support their family. [MC2] Average wages are below 800 EUR - even after many years of working in the bank “There used to be an iron curtain but now there is a wage curtain. We are given significantly less than our colleagues in other countries.”
In fact, Czech employees face a wage penalty outside of Western Europe and earn, on average, only 36.7% of the wage of an employee from a Western European country, according to research by the European Trade Union Institute.
“The east-west pay gap in the EU is shockingly wide” said Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa, “and employers are exploiting workers. Companies like KBC need to engage with trade unions and sectoral collective bargaining immediately.”
Right now, ČSOB workers do not have a collective bargaining agreement with the company, which is a first. Since late 2017, a third-party intermediary was brought in to help break an impasse between the company and the union.
However there has been little success, and the bank has started to crack down on the union. In a radical departure from precedent, ČSOB has in part stopped payments to assist with the union’s cost of representing workers and refused to deduct union dues. It has also threatened to sue Spielbergerová if she continues to speak out about the bank’s poor labour management.
“ČSOB can pressure me, but I represent thousands [MC3] of my co-workers, and we won’t surrender. We want the company to show their respect for us agreeing to a real social dialogue and working with us to improve our wages and conditions.”
In addition to the Modern Union, the Central Organisation Prague also represents workers at ČSOB in Czech Republic.