Court can stop bank strike on Wednesday

A planned protest by workers in the banking sector could be stopped if the labour court rules in favour of employers who want to interdict the strike.

Banking union Sasbo plans to hold nationwide protest action on Friday September 27. It says as many as 50 000 workers have indicated that they will take part in protest marches and picketing against recent retrenchments in the banking sector. A second strike led by Cosatu is planned for October 7.

Sasbo general secretary Joe Koleka has warned that banking systems will be shut down – including ATMs. 

The South African Revenue Service has already issued a warning to taxpayers to conduct any transactions with the revenue service at least two business days in advance of the strike.

Business Unity South Africa (BUSA), on behalf of the banks, has lodged a court application to interdict the strike. The matter is to be heard in court on Wednesday September 25, and a decision is expected to be handed down on the same day, according to a spokesperson. 

Koleka said that the interdict being sought is just part of the "tricks" by banks to discourage workers from participating in the strike. The union plans to go ahead with the strike.

According to Koleka the strike is protected under section 77 of the Labour Relations Act, because it is a socio-economic matter and that a certificate had been issued by the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).

However, BUSA will argue that the strike is not protected.

Speaking to Fin24 by phone on Monday, Kaizer Moyane - who is the Nedlac convener for BUSA - said that the union had not followed proper processes in calling the strike.

He explained that before a certificate protecting a strike is granted, the union is supposed to have consultations with Nedlac to see if the socio-economic concerns raised are warranted and to possibly resolve the matter before a strike is embarked upon as a last resort.

In November 2017, a certificate was given to trade union federation Cosatu – to which Sasbo is affiliated. At the time, Cosatu had aired concerns about the economic crisis of the country, a separate issue to the one being raised by Sasbo now. Cosatu waited until February 2019 to strike, Moyane explained.

BUSA is of the view that the certificate protecting protest action does not apply now. It appears that unions are using the motive as if it is "evergreen," Moyane said. "[Cosatu] can't just dust off a certificate and say they will go and protest," he added.

Moyane said that if Cosatu wants to strike again, then there needs to be another consultation process.

Moyane further commented that retrenchments in the sector this year have been "minimal".

"I am not aware of single bank that has retrenched any employee to maximise profits," Moyane said. He contends that banks are being forced to adapt to the changing needs of consumers, who are now opting for digital banking services as opposed to going to branches.

"Digital platforms are taking off in a big way. Banks have to adapt the way they offer services. Some roles in banks are becoming redundant," Moyane said.

He added that banks have been making an effort to equip affected workers by either reskilling them or training them to move into alternative sectors and even start their own businesses. "Banks are doing their part to cushion the blow," he said. 

Plan B for banks

Several banks have said they have contingencies in place to try and continue operations amid the strike.

On Monday Nedbank issued a statement indicating it has taken "necessary precautions" to limit disruptions.

"In the event that the protest action proceeds on Friday, 27 September, Nedbank does not anticipate major disruptions to our operations however some branches may have limited staff on the day… For optimal service delivery, clients are encouraged to make use of our ATMs and our convenient digital banking platforms to transact - these are planned to be fully operational," said Deb Fuller, Nedbank Group Executive for Human Resources.

FNB has encouraged its customers to use the FNB app, ATMs, automated deposit terminals, online and cellphone banking, Lee-Anne van Zyl, CEO of FNB Points of Presence told Fin24.

Absa could not say how many staff members would be participating in the strike, but assured the majority of staff would be working. "Should the protest action proceed as planned, we will deploy our business continuity and contingency plans to mitigate the impact on customers and clients," the bank said in an emailed response to Fin24.

Absa said some of its branches and ATM services would be affected. The bank also encouraged customers to use digital services and monitor its social media channels for updates. Corporate clients have been asked to schedule payments and other services to earlier dates.