Members of the Banking Association South Africa (BASA) are taking the necessary precautions to minimise disruption and inconvenience customers ahead of the proposed protest action by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and its affiliate, the South African Society of Bank Officials (SASBO), on the 27th of September.
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.
Business Unity South African (BUSA) is seeking to stop the Cosatu protest, as the trade union federation’s notice sent to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) – under which Sasbo is planning to act – may not have satisfied the requirements for the action to be legally protected. The Nedlac notice was first issued in August 2017 and should not be relied on in 2019. The matter is scheduled to be heard in court on the 25th September.
BASA and its members recognise the rights of bank workers to engage in protest action. 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.
The global banking industry is evolving in response to economic pressures, digital innovation and, most importantly, the changing way their customers use and consume financial services. The reduction of staff numbers in many traditional banking services is a worldwide phenomenon.
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 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. 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 have been negotiating with staff and their representatives, in good faith, to minimise job losses. Where necessary and possible, they manage their staff numbers through natural attrition and by providing training and new opportunities to affected employees. Retrenchment is a last resort. BASA members who are restructuring their businesses, have indicated that a few hundred employees are at risk of retrenchment, despite the efforts of redeployment and reskilling. There are no final figures yet, as negotiations are still underway.
Between them, South Africa’s six largest banks had 152 441 employees in 2018. This is an increase of more than 4 000 from 148 500 in 2015. Given the strong growth in smaller banks and financial technology companies, the financial system in total remains a growing employer.
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.