* Workers at three rescued lenders to strike on Feb. 6
* Protests at mass layoffs imposed as bailout conditions
* Retail branches hit hard as Brussels asks banks to shrink
* Bankers follow judges, doctors in growing Spanish protests
By Jesús Aguado
MADRID, Jan 21 Workers at three of Spain's
bailed-out banks will stage strikes in coming weeks as they
fight mass layoffs, unions said on Monday, spreading industrial
unrest to a sector where walkouts have so far been rare.
Spain was forced to ask Europe for up to 100 billion euros
($132.9 billion) to help its weakest banks last year and four of
the lenders it took over, including Bankia, have to
cut thousands of jobs and shrink their balance sheets as a
condition of their rescue.
While the banks, crippled by a property bubble that burst
five years ago, have hogged headlines, employees have so far
mostly kept a low profile even as protests become a way of life
elsewhere in Spain.
But about 20,000 layoffs planned for 2013, almost 10 percent
of the total, could reduce the workforce to levels last seen in
1975, data from the unions showed - the year dictator General
Francisco Franco died, marking the start of the country's
transition to democracy.
Alarmed at the scale of cuts, employees from across the
industry will demonstrate on Jan. 23, while workers from Bankia,
Banco de Valencia and NovaGalicia Banco will strike on Feb. 6
and hold partial strikes before then.
Unions blasted the planned cutbacks, saying they were
unaware that Brussels had set out conditions imposing specific
numbers of job reductions.
"You can't threaten employees with redundancies that will be
compensated with up to 20 days pay for every year worked, and
then claim that these entities have a value ... the viability
(of the entities) is being put at risk," said Jose Maria
Martinez, secretary general of the finance segment of the
Comisiones Obreras union.
Employees at Bankia have already staged some small
demonstrations in the past few weeks, gathering near the group's
headquarters in Madrid for example, while workers at other
smaller banks such as Caja 3, now owned by Ibercaja, began
industrial action in December with 15-minute work breaks.
But the protests are snowballing and becoming more visible,
as bankers take to the street and join judges, doctors, bus
drivers and garbage workers as strikes become almost a daily
occurrence across recession-bound Spain.
Bankia, which took 18 billion euros in European aid and had
to be rescued by the Spanish government in 2012 only a year
after it listed on the stock market, is making the biggest cuts,
of around 6,000 jobs, as it shuts about 1,000 branches.
Not all of the positions will be lost through sackings,
however, as the lender is in the midst of several disposals and
is looking to sell its business in Miami for instance.
As well as losing their jobs, workers at the likes of Bankia
are being asked to take 40 to 50 percent pay cuts and many will
see pension contributions halted for several years.
Many of Bankia's more than 20,000 employees also bought
shares in its listing in June 2011 and face seeing their savings
practically wiped out - as do the retail clients to whom they
sold stock - when the bank launches a share issue later this
The deadline for negotiations between unions and Bankia is
Spain's banks have shed over 30,000 jobs since the start of
the global financial crisis in 2007, data from the Comisiones
Obreras union showed. With about 20,000 more set to be axed in
2013, the banking workforce could drop to 218,500 by year end.
($1 = 0.7524 euros)
(Writing by Sarah White; Editing by David Holmes)