The Guardian July 4, 2001


Banks' brazen greed

by Peter Mac

The reputation of Australia's major banks suffered another blow last week. 
In a remarkably blunt expression of corporate greed, the Commonwealth 
Bank's Managing Director, David Murray, threatened to withdraw banking 
services from the poorest sector of the community if forced to accept the 
ALP's proposed "social charter" for the financial sector.

The Commonwealth Bank was, of course, originally established to provide a 
reasonably fair and equitable service to working people and the poorer 
section of the community. In assessing the bank's likely response to 
imposition of a social charter, Murray made what constitutes an argument 
against privatisation of publicly owned banking services and for its return 
to public ownership.

He stated that: "Since privatisation we have made it abundantly clear that 
we will bank all Australians, but I can tell you that on the current trends 
we may have to review that decision in future if we cannot get a fair price 
for service."

Of course, the Bank's idea of what is "a fair price" for the cut-down 
service they provide these days may not coincide with that of its 
customers.

Murray went on to make comparisons with a "corner shop" business which 
sells its products at a loss, but that is hardly a valid comparison. The 
Commonwealth Bank last year announced a record profit of $2.8 billion.

Despite their overfed condition, the banks have consistently refused to 
agree to any but the most meagre improvements in wages or conditions (and 
then only under duress) for their staff. Thousands of jobs have been 
destroyed by the steady staff cuts in recent years.

The Finance Sector Union (FSU) has now undertaken a major industrial 
campaign against Westpac, the ANZ and National Australia Bank, in support 
of a 15 percent wage rise and improved conditions.

The ANZ recently withdrew from negotiations over the pay claim, 
unilaterally awarded their staff a four percent increase, and announced 
that they would in future mount their own campaign to sign up all their 
employees on individual "non-union" contracts.

It is expected that the union campaign will involve a series of rolling 
strikes and national publicity that will identify the three banks as major 
exploiters. The FSU will enlist the support of community groups, 
shareholders and political organisations.

Back to index page