FNB branch in Woodstock, Cape Town. The call to strike came in the wake of moves by South Africa's big four banks to downsize by closing some branches and merging others in order to align banking services. File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN – The Cape Chamber of Commerce said on Thursday that the banking strike which was planned for Friday and which could have resulted in a complete shutdown of systems, including ATMs, should be seen as a warning to South Africa that better planning is necessary to deal with the changes brought about by the development of new technology.

The labour federation Cosatu and its affiliate banking union Sasbo (SA Society of Bank Officials) planned to protest job losses in the sector, but the Labour Court in Braamfontein on Thursday granted an interdict sought by Business Unity South Africa (Busa) against the strike called.

The call to strike came in the wake of moves by South Africa's big four banks to downsize by closing some branches and merging others in order to align banking services. 

Standard Bank has 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.

Cape Chamber President Geoff Jacobs said: “Banks have changed a great deal since the first ATMs were introduced but whether or not the service provided has improved for all customers is an open question. There is still a need for personal service, especially for older people and those with less education. There is also the issue of social responsibility in this time of high unemployment rates.

"We have to come to terms with the likely effects of the fourth industrial revolution and this seems like a good opportunity to start the process and for both sides to do some constructive thinking,”Jacobs added.

Jacobs said it was also necessary to understand that banks were in a difficult position. They had to deal with increasing competition in a stagnant economy and policy uncertainty created by government indecision and plans for the expropriation of bonded property without compensation.

Difficult decisions had to be made but South Africans were known for their ingenuity and compromise was possible, according to Jacobs. “We need to find something between retrenchment and, for example, the service station industry which decided to retain petrol pump attendants instead of following the self-service model," Jacobs added.

African News Agency (ANA)