Walkout generates the wrong kind of interest

HSBC reckons it is good at understanding world cultures and acknowledging our differences – so then why doesn’t it understand the concept of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work?

Banking staff are not normally associated with worker militancy. In fact there has only been one significant strike in the sector for many years. But on Friday 27 May, Amicus picket lines may well be formed outside HSBC branches up and down the country and at the company’s annual general meeting. So why have staff in HSBC taken this unprecedented step?

Well it’s basically about money – or not enough to be precise. This year HSBC imposed a pay deal that left more than 10,000 staff with below-inflation rises and some 2,500 with no rise at all. At the same time the bank has introduced a new – and in our view, flawed – bonus scheme, which we believe will leave the majority of staff considerably worse off.

But as in most industrial disputes, it’s not just pay that is causing anger. Despite UK profits increasing by 15.5%, and the bank posting a record group profit of £9bn, staff are feeling increasingly under-valued and unhappy at what they perceive as the bank’s growing disregard for their welfare.

One issue that has been impacting on our members over the last year has been understaffing, which in some cases has reached chronic levels, causing stress for the staff struggling to provide a good service. On top of this and as a result of HSBC’s policy on offshoring jobs, many customers have been choosing to come into branches rather than risk dealing with the bank’s global call centres, thereby adding to the workload of branch staff.

All these issues are very bad for employee relations, but what makes it worse is the bank’s refusal to admit that there is anything wrong. It has ignored all the union’s warnings about low morale and is, in fact, penalising the bank’s longest serving and most experienced staff by freezing their pay – which for many has followed up to 10 years of zero pay rises. These are the very staff that customers often choose to be served by and who tend to train the flow of new recruits.

The bank argues that the pay deal has tried to target the lowest paid. Amicus doesn’t have a problem with bringing up the pay of the people at the bottom, but what we do have a problem with is freezing the pay of loyal staff who the bank consider are paid ‘above the market rate’.

HSBC is not alone in the zero pay-rise scandal. Several other finance companies operate similar policies and Amicus is campaigning to make this unfair practice a thing of the past. No doubt other employers will be watching the pay dispute at HSBC with interest. And they should – because unfairness and bad practice cannot be tolerated.

By Rory Murphy,  assistant general secretary, Amicus

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