Byline: Neil Michael Chief Reporter
WHEN is a payment a bonus, and when is it just part of your wages? It's a question that may cause hundreds of EBS staff to vote for strike action.
Workers have been told that their annual Christmas payment has been stopped by the Department of Finance and AIB, which merged with the building society in July.
Finance and EBS chiefs say that a '13th month' payout - the equivalent of a month's salary - is a Christmas bonus and therefore banned. But employees argued last night that the payment is in fact part of their wages that has been deferred until the end of the year.
Staff were told of the change on Tuesday and held meetings at the EBS's Dublin head office yesterday. There are now plans to ballot for strike action. Employees are also considering taking the department to court to try and reinstate the payments, which have been made every Christmas for the past 45 years.
This year, the EBS is offering workers interestfree loans in place of the '13th month' top-up. The 370 workers involved are also furious that some managers will not be affected. A number of bosses opted to have their salary paid at a consistent rate during the year instead of having a lump sum paid on top of their December salary.
As a result, they will be unaffected because the extra cash has already been incorporated into their wages.
Colm Quinlan, whose Unite union represents 300 staff at EBS said: 'The Department of Finance may well believe these payments are bonuses but they are not.
'The payments are, in fact, deferred pay and they are very much part of employees' pay. They are not performance related. Indeed, there are no criteria attached to them whatsoever. 'They are pay in a different shape and have been part of an agreement with staff for 45 years. They are unique to the EBS. Staff are really upset about this, especially as it is happening so close to Christmas, and a few people just walked out of the office when they were told.' Mr Quinlan added: 'There was no notice, no consultation and no warning.
Staff were just told they wouldn't be given the money.
'We are constantly hearing about how the Government can't do this or that to the pay packages of senior civil servants and that this is because there are legal considerations and contractual entitlements.
'The same should apply for the EBS workers, many of whom are on little more than [euro]30,000. …