Over 40 000 banking sector workers are expected to take to the streets on Friday, in a national bank strike led by finance union Sasbo. But this could prove futile if the underlying factors that have led to the changes in the banking industry are not dealt with.
There are three main demands that Sasbo has put forward, starting with a moratorium on job losses, the regulation of CEO and executive salaries and a just transition that focuses on reskilling and upskilling workers for the fourth industrial revolution.
Banking Association of South Africa (Basa) managing director Cas Coovadia says what needs to happen is for the banks and Sasbo to sit down and map out how they are going to address the underlying issues of low economic growth and the evolution of banking in an increasingly digitising economy.
“You can’t freeze retrenchments, because if you freeze the retrenchments of 100 people today, in six months’ time you are probably looking at the retrenchments of more people,” said Coovadia.
The banks, represented by Business Unity South Africa (Busa), have launched a court challenge to interdict the protests on technical terms, saying the strike notice that union federation Cosatu submitted was not valid for the strike to be protected. The matter will be heard on Wednesday.
Coovadia made it clear that business respects Sasbo’s right to strike, however this has to be done within the regulations and rules of the country.
Sasbo Secretary-General Joe Kokela told Moneyweb that the strike will go ahead as planned on Friday, saying it’s a lawful and protected action.
Retrenchments not an operational issue
Kokela described the potential retrenchments by the banks as “an act of corporate greed and nothing else”.
Standard Bank announced it would be closing 91 branches as part of its efforts to digitise its retail and business banking, placing 1 200 jobs at risk. Two months ago Nedbank confirmed that it was in talks with 1 500 employees over potential job cuts, while reports state that in excess of 800 jobs could be at risk at Absa, as the bank rolls out its restructuring model.
All three banks were contacted by Moneyweb and did not respond to questions as to whether they would accede to Sasbo’s demands on freezing the job cuts process, or indicate how many jobs had already been affected.
Absa said the restructuring process isn’t complete, thus it can’t provide final numbers on the number of jobs that have been affected. Absa together with Nedbank mentioned that they’re committed to engaging with Sasbo on its concerns.
Kokela said banks are hiding behind “operational requirements” to retrench workers through Section 189 of the Labour Relations Act, which is “wrong and misplaced”.
Kokela said digitisation, or the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, is not an operational requirement – especially when there are consumers who fall in the lower groups (one to four) of the Living Standards Measure.
“Those are people that are struggling with banking and when you look at what the banks are doing, it excludes poor people in the system,” said Kokela.
But Coovadia said banking models are not driven by banks but rather customer behaviour.
“Banks are responding to customer pressures that say we want banking services now, conveniently, cost-effectively and through different platforms,” said Coovadia, adding that this new reality of banking is a worldwide phenomenon.
Little to no disruption
Sasbo will give the banking sector seven days to respond to its demands, failing which Kokela said it will embark on another strike. “It will be for a longer period because we cannot allow this to happen.”
In the meantime, Basa has assured the public that its members are taking precautions to ensure that banking services are not disrupted on Friday.
Consumers have been encouraged to use digital banking platforms. Absa has also encouraged its corporate clients to consider scheduling their payments, transactions and other services to earlier dates.
Similarly, the South African Revenue Services has encouraged taxpayers to submit their payments or conduct other tax-related transactions two business days in advance.