Sep 14, 2012

Brazil bank workers call indefinite strike as talks collapse

Dispute coincides with bank losses after slowdown in once-booming economy

(Reuters) — Brazil's bank workers will take to the streets next week to demand higher pay, the latest in a spree of labour disputes afflicting Latin America's largest economy.

Banking employees in the country's two largest cities and in as many as nine different states agreed to stop work on Sept. 18 for an indefinite time, according to a statement by industry union Contraf.

The strike was called after talks with banks collapsed on Wednesday night when workers rejected a pay offer.

Contraf deemed as "insufficient" the banks' offer to increase pay by six per cent, or just 0.58 per cent when taking into account trailing 12-month inflation.

The offer fell short of "almost all wage talks in other sectors in which workers obtained average wage increases about five per cent above inflation," according to the statement from Contraf, which is short for Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores do Ramo Financeiro.

The pay dispute coincides with a surge in loan delinquencies and loan-related losses for banks after a sharp slowdown in Brazil's once-booming economy.

At the same time, the financial industry faces pressure from President Dilma Rousseff to cut borrowing costs to help revive the economy.

Banks had to set aside 39 billion reais (C$19 billion) from profit to cover bad loans, but that was "just an accounting trick to... help reduce workers' share in the industry's profits," Contraf president Carlos Cordeiro said in the statement.

Contraf is demanding a pay rise of 10.25 per cent for this year, setting a $1,200-per-month (C$578) floor for salaries in the industry, a minimum bonus equivalent to three months of wages plus a fixed downpayment of about $2,500 (C$1,203), and higher food, transport and family benefits.