ROME (Reuters) - Workers at Italian banks will go on strike on Thursday for the first time in 13 years to protest against the country's biggest lenders unilaterally pulling out of a labor contract covering more than 300,000 employees, trade unions said.
Rallies are due to take place in Rome and in Milan to bring the banks' workers on the streets for the first time ever in Italy, unions said on Monday at a press conference.
Lenders group ABI annulled the national bank workers' contract in September, more than nine months before it expires in mid-2014, sending a message it wanted substantial cost cuts in the next agreement.
Italy avoided the widespread banking bailouts that swept Spain and Ireland. But banks have been hard hit by the euro zone debt crisis and forced to boost their capital bases. Italian lenders have sold assets, closed branches and announced 19,000 job cuts since 2011 as they seek to reduce costs and improve traditionally weak profitability.
"We want to maintain the current level of workforce for the banking sector and we ask for a fair contract ... to be adopted at national level," said Lando Maria Sileoni, secretary general of the FABI union.
Unions are also asking for a cap on top executive salaries as the wage gap to workers is considered to be too wide.
During the rallies scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday "workers will give passers-by a rose as a gift to highlight that banks are here to serve the country," said Massimo Masi, secretary general of UILCA union.
(Reporting by Stefano Bernabei; writing by Francesca Landini)