December 15th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

Editorial: The Advent of Christmas

TESTIMONIAL: News Weekly - a variety of ideas and points of view

Canberra Observed: After the election: new look for both sides

BIOETHICS: There is no scientific need to clone embryos

Adult stem cell breakthrough

National Day of Action over banks' job cuts

Straws in the Wind: Insiders, celebrities and Tic-Tac men

Western Australia: Gallop's drug 'compromise'

Media: Parliamentary press gallery poll predictions

Letter: Roots of terror

Letter: History repeats?

Letter: Reinvention

Letter: Patrol boats

Letter: Doing what's right - Mary Whitehouse CBE

United States: Torture, assassination and the Death of God

Comment: Economic policy: how they got it wrong

TRADE: After Qatar: Australia’s limited options

BOOKS: 'Gallipoli', by Les Carlyon

BOOKS: 'Language and the Internet', by David Crystal

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National Day of Action over banks' job cuts

by Victor Sirl

News Weekly, December 15, 2001

As a result of banking deregulation the Finance Sector Union (FSU) finds that it is losing members, and any employment growth generated results in casual and part-time jobs only.

Furthermore, the union makes a clear link between declining customer service, especially over the counter service, and job losses. Facing the prospect that things will only get worse the union has announced a National Day of Action for December 13.

The date has been chosen to coincide with shareholders’ meetings for Westpac, NAB and ANZ the following day. A resolution for shareholders to support has been drafted by the FSU, but the bank executives have stated it will not be put on the agenda.


Obviously, the desires of small shareholders are treated with no greater respect than those of small account holders. Interestingly, the union claims that the letters from each organisation were strikingly similar.

A copy of the resolution can be found at the union website, where it is appealing for shareholders in the banks to give it their proxies for the purpose of demonstrating support for the matters raised in the resolution.

Shareholders are urged to use their votes to demand an end to bank closures, more staff for better service, reduced fees and charges, guaranteed rights of shareholders, commitment to face-to-face banking, an end to out-sourcing of core bank functions and a commitment to banking services for all Australians.

FSU National Secretary, Tony Beck, has stated, "The union with the support of shareholders will raise the issues highlighted in the ‘resolutions’ at each AGM even though shareholders will not even have the chance to discuss the resolutions".

Sadly, there will also be work stoppages, resulting in disruptions for the community.

The union has produced a social charter for the banks. Realistically the concept of a charter is probably as politically dead as Kim Beazley. The Labor leader took this concept into the recent election, attracted no community support for it, but rejected Will Bailey’s call for an inquiry into the effects of bank deregulation and the feasibility of a new Commonwealth-style bank. Bailey’s proposal gained far greater publicity, a clear message for ALP élites and policy makers.

The last point is relevant for the FSU when facing a Coalition Government antagonistic to the concept of supporting an ALP policy, or a union for that matter. Wouldn’t it be wise to support the call for an inquiry?

Such an inquiry with wide community support and media coverage would allow the union back into a political arena where government policy can be influenced. Furthermore, it would provide a forum to raise many of the concerns and ideas discussed in the charter.

Certainly, the union has some interesting statistics to share and picture it presents is one of job losses and branch closures, while bank profits rise. Figures for job losses in the big four banks from 1991 to 1997 reveal 36,044 full-time jobs were lost, with an increase in part-time employment of 9,295.

This is relevant to the customer because the FSU are linking the need for face-to-face customer service to the need to secure the employment of existing staff and then increase staffing.

Fortunately, it is not only trade union leaders who see the consequences to families and the community from economic rationalist policy making out of Canberra. Thomas Bradley, the Senior-Vice President of the Queensland National Party in the pages of News Weekly (March 10, 2001, pp 12-13 ) launched a scathing attack on economic rationalism:

"The unholy trinity of economic rationalism (globalism, deregulation, national competition policy) challenges our traditional institutions and economic base, and even our cultural identity.

"It’s an agenda that seeks out the means by which people were able to make a decent life, and destroys those means. It appears to assume that any occupation (outside the financial markets) where people make a reasonable living, involves some anti-competitive practice and that must be extinguished".

What is happening to the career futures of employees in the banking industry would seem to validate Mr Bradley’s comments. In fact, most FSU members would agree with his comments regarding the victims of economic rationalist policies:

"The casualities are ordinary families. For working people, the real value of their wages has been in steady decline".

However, what is the good of this consensus of opinion between trade unionists and many others with diverse political affiliations, if no common policy agenda is pursued?

One proposal, neither of the left or the right, is Will Bailey’s call for an inquiry into the effects of banking deregulation and the feasibility of establishing a new Commonwealth-style bank. It offers a chance to demonstrate the failure of economic rationalism in delivering appropriate social outcomes and chart a course for policy change.

If fully implemented, Bailey’s ideas would reverse the trend of fewer bank branches, create full-time jobs, offer services consumers are currently losing, and provide capital for regional development. Such benefits would not solve every individual’s financial difficulties but it would help many.

Jobs priority

It must be remembered that the FSU is in the situation where the majority of its members from the banking sector work in the major four banks. Therefore, it must make a priority of protecting their jobs and working conditions. The union is quite right to take this stance but it should not be misled into thinking Bailey’s call would defeat that objective.

Such an inquiry would give the union every opportunity to state how those customers currently neglected by the policies of the big four can be better serviced.

A New Zealand-style "People’s Bank" for small to medium size account holders may be only one solution, but it is one worth discussing. However, the need for a development bank is irrefutable and would not cut across either the interests of the big banks or the FSU.

Let us hope the FSU will recognise the opportunity which the inquiry Will Bailey is calling for offers them, to garner community support regarding the plight of its members. In addition to this, they have a wealth of well-researched evidence regarding the failure of banking deregulation. Readers are strongly urged to examine the union’s website.

The FSU’s grievances are real, their cause is just and it’s about time government gave them a fair hearing.

- Victor Sirl

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