The Guardian July 11, 2001


Bank workers dig in for national struggle

by Peter Mac

Three hundred workers employed in the Hunter Valley and Newcastle branches 
of the Westpac, National and ANZ banks recently stopped work as the first 
step in a dispute over pay and conditions. The union is seeking 
improvements in conditions and a 15 percent pay rise, introduced over two 
years, to bring the salary level of employees of these three major banks up 
to the level of Commonwealth Bank staff.

National Secretary of the Finance Sector Union, Tony Beck described the 
action as: "the first shot in a campaign designed to make the banks listen 
to the concerns of staff and customers and address issues of fair pay, 
achievable workloads, job security and customer service."

The banks responded by bringing in strike-breakers from Sydney and 
Melbourne, and managed to keep 37 out of 50 banks open, offering a 
tottering basic service over the stop-work period.

However, the same tactic wasn't available to the banks in the next stage, 
which involved stopwork action by employees in cheque "proof" areas. ANZ 
branch staff were pressured to take over part of the proof staff's work 
prior to completing their shift, but this was unsuccessful. The union 
subsequently implemented a ban on overtime in this area.

Employees in Westpac's Launceston call centre and bank employees in South 
Australian and Western Sydney took further action this week. Some 120 
people attended a meeting at Penrith and decided to extend the stopwork 
action for a full 24 hours.

Meanwhile, staff who man the Commonwealth Bank's (CBA) Ezybanking call 
centre in Melbourne are also in dispute. They are currently being forced to 
work for an hourly rate of $16.19, with no overtime or shift loading, and 
are subject to rostering 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

They work in the same building as CBA staff who receive an hourly rate of $ 
17.26 and are entitled to overtime and shift penalty rates.

As a result of involving the union in these matters some employees have 
been threatened with dismissal by their employer, Office Overload, who have 
also pressured employees to sign individual workplace contracts.

ANZ counter staff at one Sydney ANZ branch have been placed under 
performance review  equivalent to a formal threat of dismissal  for 
failing to persuade enough customers of the benefits of the bank's 
insurance products.

One staff member was disciplined for wearing a union badge to work, even 
though this was established by court action as a workplace right some 88 
years ago.

The bank workers' campaign is also intended to involve other unions and 
community organisations.

Three major unions have already pledged their support, and the Hunter 
Valley action resulted in some 1000 faxes of support from around the 
country. Hunter Valley workers also resolved to send delegations to local 
parliamentarians to seek further support for the union's campaign.

As part of the campaign the union has also held discussions with the 
Pensioners and Superannuants' Association, Bankwatch, and the Australian 
Consumers' Association, and has been canvassing support from members of the 
public.

Public anger at the CBA's statement that it would consider withdrawing 
small account services if forced to conform to a banking charter has been 
fuelled by stories that bank management staff have coined the termed "bozo" 
(below zero) for small account customers!

If you'd like to let the banks know how you feel about their treatment of 
staff and customers, or you would like to know more about the issue, 
contact the union's email address at:

peoplefirst@fsunion.org.au

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