Picture: 123RF/FUZZ BONES
Picture: 123RF/FUZZ BONES

Business Unity SA (Busa) is going to court to stop finance union Sasbo, a union federation Cosatu affiliate, from embarking on a total shutdown of the banking sector from Friday, the Banking Association SA (Basa) said.

Basa said on Monday that Costu’s notice sent to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), under which Sasbo was planning to act, “may not have satisfied the requirements for the action to be legally protected”.

The Nedlac notice was first issued in August 2017 and should not be relied on in 2019, it said. The matter is scheduled to be heard in court on Wednesday.

Sasbo will be striking against job losses and retrenchments in the sector, which it argues are driven by corporate greed and not because of technological developments in the much touted fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

The protest comes as the industry is battling job losses and scrambling to digitise its operations due to competition from tech-savvy newcomers such as Discovery, TymeBank and Bank Zero.

Standard Bank, the second-largest bank in SA, has been forced to close 91 branches, affecting 1,200 employees, as it re-aligns its retail and business banking delivery model to be on par with the demands of 4IR. Other banks could follow if trading conditions worsen.

Basa said the association and its members recognise the rights of bank workers to engage in protest action, however, these actions need to be undertaken in terms of the law, to ensure the safety of the public, businesses and their customers, and to ensure as little as possible disruption to the economy.

Basa said it is taking the necessary precautions to minimise disruptions and inconvenience to customers.

“The global banking industry is evolving in response to economic pressures, digital innovation and, most importantly, the changing way their customers use and consume financial services,” the association said. “The reduction of staff numbers in many traditional banking services is a worldwide phenomenon. In part, because of these global changes, many in the SA banking industry are having to restructure their businesses to ensure they remain sustainable and relevant to the needs of consumers.”

Low business volumes

Basa said SA banks also have to manage the impact of low business volumes because of the state of the economy, which will remain weak for the foreseeable future. It said the banks are painfully aware of the high rate of unemployment in the country and have been negotiating with staff and their representatives in good faith to minimise job losses.

“Where necessary and possible, they manage their staff numbers through natural attrition and by providing training and new opportunities to affected employees. Retrenchment is a last resort,” Basa said.

Basa members who are restructuring their businesses, have indicated that a few hundred employees are at risk of retrenchment, despite the efforts of redeployment and reskilling. There are no final figures yet, as negotiations are still underway.

“Protest action will not help address the realities affecting the banking industry and will further burden the economy and deter investment,” Basa said. “The only sustainable solution is improved education and attracting higher levels of investment to drive economic growth and job creation.”

This requires government labour and business to work together in the national interest, it said.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za