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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 18:13 GMT
Italian banks strike over euro
Strike notice in a bank in Rome
Closed: 90% of branches in big cities were affected
Italy's changeover to the euro hit another obstacle on Monday when bank workers staged a one-day strike.


This action will again hit citizens already subjected over the past days to exhausting delays

Citizens' lobbyist
The bank employees walked out over the way their employers have handled the transfer to the European single currency.

Workers say banks have not hired enough extra staff for the busy period. They are also demanding pay rises.

Use of the euro in Italy has already been slowed by sluggish distribution and marred by a cabinet row over the country's adoption of the currency, which has led to the resignation of the pro-European foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero.


Enormous queues, disorganisation and overwork for bank staff were the consequence of the thoughtlessness with which the banks tackled the roll-out of the new money

Union spokesman
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi took over his portfolio on Sunday.

The industrial action is the second taken by Italian bank employees this month - two unions staged a strike on 2 January to protest at delays over the renewal of a new labour contract although only a handful of offices were affected.

Banking unions say the strike this time has resulted in the closure of most bank branches.

"In major cities, more than 90% of the branches are closed," said Marcello Tocco, secretary general of the Fisac-CGIL trade union.

Sales glitch

As annual sales got under way, shopkeepers warned the strike would exacerbate their problems.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi: Now also foreign minister after a row over the euro
They are already short of euros but are under pressure to give customers - spending lire - the new currency in change.

Many banks failed to convert cash dispensers ahead of the changeover and long queues on 1 January, when the euro was launched, sparked angry disputes in Rome, Naples and Palermo which required police intervention.

Shoppers were also unhappy.

Giustino Trincia, from the citizens' lobby, Cittadinanzattiva, said: "With all due respect for the right to strike, this action will again hit citizens already subjected over the past days to exhausting delays."

But, Eligio Boni, secretary general of one of the unions, Fiba-CISL, blamed the Italian Banking Association (ABI) for the conditions which had led to the industrial action.

'Thoughtlessness'

"Enormous queues, disorganisation and overwork for bank staff were the consequence of the thoughtlessness with which the ABI had tackled the roll-out of the new money," he said.

But the ABI argued the union demands were the result of "unjustified alarmism" and stressed striking at this "extremely delicate" time was irresponsible.

Despite the euro's rocky debut in Italy, the prime minister said on Monday that his administration remained fully committed to the currency.

But BBC Rome correspondent David Willey says it is unclear how Mr Berlusconi will manage to do the job of the foreign minister whilst simultaneouly handling his own portfolio.

See also:

07 Jan 02 | Europe
Berlusconi says Italy backs EU
07 Jan 02 | Europe
European press review
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