Durban - UNIONS say they are expecting about 50 000 people to join a banking sector strike on Friday.
Joe Kokela, general secretary of Sasbo - the Finance Union (formerly the SA Society of Bank Officials) said they had been negotiating with the banks over planned retrenchments since May.
He said the banks came to negotiations with a “take it or leave it” approach. He said the union offered various solutions to prevent retrenchments, including upskilling workers, multi-skilling or letting the process of natural attrition reduce staff numbers.
The threat of retrenchment had affected staff morale. “Our members are living in fear,” he said.
Kokela said the strike would affect the entire sector, including internet banking and ATMs.
He said the union was also prepared to counter any contingency plans banks would implement to mitigate the effects of the strike.
Kokela said people should plan for Friday when cash and other banking services would not be available. He said they had 73000 members in all parts of the banking sector, and expected up to 50000 to be on strike.
Kokela said fellow Cosatu unions would join them in solidarity. Edwin Mkhize, provincial secretary of Cosatu, said he encouraged the public to join the strike against retrenchments in the sector. He said banks were exploiting their workers and should work to help the people instead of always focusing on profits.
Economist Professor Bonke Dumisa said he understood the plight faced by the workers, but it was inevitable that retrenchments would happen.
“It’s either you adapt or die,” he said.
Dumisa said transactions worth millions of rand happened every minute in the country and Sasbo’s planned shutdown of the banking sector was tantamount to sabotage. The strike would affect not only the banks, but other sectors.
Dumisa said it should be noted that people seldom went into banks any more, and often used internet banking and other cashless transactions.
Unions needed to give skills to their members to deal with the changing times, he said.
The Banking Association of South Africa (Basa) said it had made plans to mitigate the effects of the strike: “Banks will be operating as usual on the day.”
However, in case of any unavoidable disruptions at branches, bank customers should as far as possible make use of digital banking services.
“Banks will be carefully monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of their customers and staff,” the organisation said.
It said retrenchments were not limited to South Africa, but were an international trend due to the changing nature of the industry. It had been negotiating with unions and staff in good faith to minimise job losses, and retrenchments were a last resort by Basa’s members, it said.
“Protest action will not help to address the realities affecting the banking industry and will further burden the economy and deter investment.
“The only sustainable solution is improved education and attracting higher levels of investment to drive economic growth and job creation.
“These require government, labour and business to work together in the national interest,” the organisation said.
The SA Revenue Service said it would have contingency plans in place should a strike go ahead. “All participants are rolling out plans to ensure there is minimal disruption to Sars services,” it said. The organisation asked for taxpayers’ patience.