Italian bank BNP, unions are arguing over taking over the strike According to Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logo of BNL Bank (Bnp group Paribas) in Naples, Italy, February 22, 2016. Reuters / Tony Gentile

MILAN (Reuters) – Italian banking unions on Tuesday disputed a figure given by BNL, the Italian branch of the French banking group BNP Paribas (OTC :), over the start of a strike the day before in a rare show of open conflict in the sector.

The BNL said on Monday that 29.8 per cent of its workers had joined the strike – the first such protest since the 1990s.

The bank said it had ensured it could continue to operate thanks to its digital capabilities at a time when workers were also absent due to year-end holidays.

The unions said on Tuesday that the BNL should clarify how it calculated that 80 per cent of branches remained closed.

“Accepting the clear challenge raised by the company’s unions will seek to provoke even louder protests from workers,” Fabi, First-Cisl, Fisac-Cgil, Uilca and Unisin said in a joint statement.

Such a degree of confrontation is uncommon in the Italian banking sector, where workers are laid off only through early retirement programs offered to older employees on a voluntary basis and which lenders are very expensive to finance.

Under such programs, workers receive up to 80-90% of their salaries from a bank-financed fund by laying off staff until they actually qualify for retirement.

Employee requests to join the program usually exceed the number of departures planned by banks.

The hostility highlights the difficult phase the industry is going through with negative rates that make lending unprofitable, while facing the digital challenge of non-banking players not subject to the same strict regulations and supervision.

BNL workers protested against his decision to use external providers for IT and back office services, a move the unions say affects 900 of BNL’s 11,500 employees in central offices and about 700 branches across Italy.

The unions also complained about BNL’s sale to Worldline in July of an 80% stake in card payment processing company Axepta Italy.

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