Bank workers gear up for industrial struggle
by Peter Mac Despite record profits, Australia's major banks have refused to concede more than a miserly 2.7 per cent with regard to their employees' claims for an improvement in pay, in the campaign being waged by the Finance Sector Union (FSU). The banks have also indicated that they intend to shed jobs in even greater numbers than in the last four years. The National Australia Bank (NAB) is one of the worst offenders in this respect. Having suffered heavy losses from its investment in the US "Homeside" business it has axed some 100 branches in the last year alone, and has refused to rule out further closures. A representative for the National Australia Bank (NAB) admitted that there would be job losses after what he called "the diagnostic phase" (i.e. after an assessment) of the Bank's new plan, "Positioning for Growth". The banks have hastened to justify their job-cutting plans on the international situation and the consequent "downturn in the global economy". The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has also foreshadowed branch closures and job losses, and has recently confirmed that this would include at least 10 per cent of the staff of CBA subsidiary Commonwealth Securities. A representative recently justified these moves as necessary to combat a "more complex and uncertain business environment". The bank has hired a team of management consultants to find ways of cutting costs by $5 million. The consultants' report is expected to recommend actions which could result in a loss of 5000 staff positions The day after the banks' announcements of their intentions, CBA shares rose by 80c, and those of ANZ, Westpac and St George all closed at new record levels. The CBA will carry much of the bill for the financial crash of mining company Pasminco and Ansett Airlines. Nevertheless, a bank representative has declared confidently that the bank still expected to achieve "double- digit earnings growth" in the 2002 financial year, even allowing for the extra costs of an anticipated new round of redundancies. The FSU is now asking why, in the light of such massive profit-taking, the banks cannot afford a rise in salary for their staff, and why they have to close even more branches. A union representative recently stated: "We want them to explain why it is necessary or desirable to slash jobs when they have had record profitability." The union is demanding a 7.5 per cent rise for bank staff, and is also concerned about rising stress levels among bank workers, with a never- ending anxiety over job positions, and the rate of overtime worked soaring. The union is considering further industrial action over these issues, including a series of strikes next month.