Basa said banks would be operating as usual on Friday and would be monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of their customers and staff. File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN – Bank customers have been advised to make use of digital banking services as far as possible on Friday to avoid any unplanned or illegal disruptions of branches, even though the planned banks strike has been deemed unprotected by the court.

The Banking Association of South Africa (Basa) said in a statement that banks would be operating as usual on Friday and would be carefully monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of their customers and staff. 

“We expect the authorities and union to ensure the safety of customers and property, if any protest action goes ahead. Given the decision of the court, we urge Sasbo to suspend any planned protest action and to engage with banks on the underlying issues facing our industry,”said Basa.

The planned banks strike by trade union Cosatu and banking union Sasbo was stopped in its tracks by a Labour Court ruling on Thursday morning that deemed it unprotected following an application by Business Unity South Africa (Busa).

The court accepted the view that Cosatu’s notice to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) of the protest had expired. Basa stated that the Nedlac notice had first been issued in August 2017 and could not be relied upon.

The bankers said the global banking industry was evolving in response to economic pressures, digital innovation and, most importantly, the changing way their customers use and consume financial services. 

“In part because of these global changes, many in the South African banking industry are having to restructure their businesses to ensure they remain sustainable and relevant to the needs of consumers.

“South African banks have also been having to manage in an economy that will remain weak for the foreseeable future. The South African Reserve Bank predicts growth of only 0,6 percent for this year, and well under two percent, through to 2021.

“South African banks are painfully aware of the high rate of unemployment in the country. They do as much as possible to minimise job losses. Retrenchment is a last resort,”said Basa.

At least 50 000 people were expected to take part in the strike that was called in the wake of moves by South Africa’s big four banks to downsize by closing some branches and merging others. 

Standard Bank closed 104 branches, affecting more than 1 000 jobs. Nedbank, FNB and Absa have also trimmed branches, with Absa reducing its own from from 885 in 2011 to 698 in this year’s first quarter.