News / 25 September 2019, 10:47am / SAKHISENI NXUMALO
Durban - South Africa’s largest finance union has warned citizens to withdraw sufficient funds on Wednesday and on Thursday, as money would not be available to them at banks and ATMs on Friday.
The South African Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) is planning to mount a national shutdown on Friday, in protest against job losses in the financial sector.
But a battle to stop the strike is due to start in the Gauteng High Court today.
Sasbo general secretary Joe Kokela said more than 55000 out of 73000 members were expected to be part of the strike.
“People must just make sure that they withdraw enough money because the ATMs and speedpoints will not be working. We are not punishing the citizens of this country, but we are fighting job losses,” said Kokela.
According to Sasbo, it is recognised by banks, insurance companies, pension fund administrators and the like.
It has members at nearly 200 financial institutions.
Its website says the bulk of its members are from Absa, First National Bank and Standard Bank, with Nedcor running a close fourth.
The intended shutdown comes after some banks announced retrenchments.
It was reported that, as of August 1, Nedbank would serve 1500 letters on employees, who had not been placed in permanent positions.
In March this year, Standard Bank announced it would cut 1200 jobs and close 91 branches.
Kokela believes more than 10000 jobs are on the line.
Cosatu national spokesperson Sizwe Pamla called on all workers to rally around the action. Pamla said the banking sector has been one of the most profitable in the past two decades.
He said the sector was abusing mechanisation and digitisation, by retrenching workers without developing a jobs plan that would ensure a just transition to new technologies.
The Banking Association of South Africa (Basa) said it was taking the necessary precautions to minimise disruption and inconvenience to customers.
It said all banks would operate 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.
“The banks will be carefully monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of their customers and staff,” said Basa.
It said further Business Unity South African (Busa) would seek to stop the protest in court today, as it may not have satisfied the requirements for the action to be legally protected.
Basa said it recognised the rights of bank workers to protest.
“However, these actions need to be undertaken in terms of the law, to ensure the safety of the public, businesses and their customers, as well as the least possible disruption to the economy.
“In the event of the protest action going ahead, we expect the authorities and unions to ensure it is peaceful and guarantee the safety of customers and property,” Basa said.
The association said that the global banking industry was evolving in response to economic pressures, digital innovation and changing the way their customers used financial services.
“The reduction of staff numbers, in many traditional banking services, is a worldwide phenomenon.
“South African 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,” Basa said.
It added that South African banks were painfully aware of the high rate of unemployment in the country.
“They have been negotiating with staff and their representatives, in good faith, to minimise job losses. Retrenchment is a last resort. 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.”
Cosatu intends pushing back against Busa’s move to interdict the strike.
“We encourage all workers to attend the court hearing on this matter at the Gauteng High Court, where we will legally oppose the interdict application by Busa,” said Pamla.
Standard Bank Group said it was aware of the planned protest action and had effective contingency plans in place.
“Customers are encouraged to use any of Standard Bank’s multiple digital banking channels, including the Banking App, Internet Banking, USSD, and ATMs,” the group said.
Economist Professor Jannie Rossouw, of Wits University, said it was clear the strike would badly affect the economy.
“The strike will have an impact on the daily operations of commercial banks but also might disrupt the supply of cash.
“What is not clear is whether the strike will impact the national payment system. If it’s not impacted, the strike will be disruptive but if it is impacted, it will bring the economy to a standstill,” Rossouw.