Spain bank workers protest mass layoffs
Crisis-hit Spanish bank workers held nationwide protests on Wednesday, lashing out against top executives they blame for tens of thousands of layoffs in the industry.
“We are not bankers, we are workers,” yelled an angry crowd of hundreds in front of the headquarters of Spain’s central bank in Madrid, one of several protests called in various cities.
Many of the protestors were employees of Bankia, the group at the heart of Spain’s banking crisis with by far the greatest losses on its balance sheet.
It has so far received around 18 billion euros from a European Union rescue loan of up to 100 billion euros ($130 billion) for Spanish banks, and in November it announced 6,000 layoffs.
“Bankia is the tip of the iceberg of the whole financial system which is drowning under bad political management,” said one Bankia employee at the Madrid protest, Anna Sanchez, 44.
“It is the workers who are paying for this bad management.”
The Spanish banking sector is still staggering from a 2008 property crash which left it awash with bad loans.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy last year secured the agreement for the European Union credit line to fix the banks’ balance sheets, and a first slice of 37 billion euros has already been pumped into stricken banks.
Unions say the banking crisis has caused tens of thousands of ordinary workers’ jobs to be cut.
At the same time, they say, top executives such as former Bankia chairman Rodrigo Rato and the former vice president of Bankia parent group BFA, Jose Luis Olivas, have escaped punishment.
“We think it is unacceptable that those who abused their managerial positions in the financial entities bailed out by the state, such as Mr. Rato and Mr. Olivas, among others, should stay free while being responsible for bringing thousands of Spanish families into ruin,” said a statement by the UGT, one of Spain’s biggest labour unions.
“Meanwhile, more than 30,000 jobs have been destroyed since 2008 and all the forecasts point to another 20,000 being destroyed in the next five years,” it added.
Rato, a former managing director of the International Monetary Fund who resigned as chairman of Bankia in May 2012 days before it was bailed out by the state, was questioned by a judge last month over fraud charges related to the collapse of Bankia.
Despite the unresolved questions, Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica announced Friday it had hired him as an adviser.
The Bank of Spain is also on the back foot after being harshly criticised for its surveillance of the financial system.
“We have detected some shortfalls, vagueness, and a failure to update procedures that should be corrected,” said a report drawn up by an internal committee of the central bank and published late Tuesday.
The report, required by Brussels as one of the conditions of the rescue loan for Spain’s banks, notably recommended placing a central bank inspector permanently in each of Spain’s 16 largest banks to more closely monitor their business.
The Bank of Spain noted that it already had inspectors based in the two biggest lenders, Santander and BBVA, for more than 10 years, and in CaixaBank, Banco Popular, and Banco de Sabadell for the past three years.
The central bank rejected press reports that said its own inspectors had criticised its failure to react adequately to internal irregularities. The state prosecution service however said it would look into the reports.