Photo: Sean Willis

Photo: Sean Willis

by Philip Ferguson

Today has seen one-hour strike action and pickets by sections of ANZ bank workers around the country, with other sections on strike tomorrow.  The strikes and pickets follow the breakdown of negotiations between the bank workers union, FIRST, and the employer, the bosses calling a halt to negotiations after just a day whereas the union favoured three days of negotiations.

There are two issues which the workers and union are particularly concerned about – one is the attempt by the employer to impose greater ‘flexibility’ of working days and hours and the other is pay.

In the last financial year ANZ, the biggest bank in New Zealand, reported a massive profit of $1.37 billion.  This year the bank looks like it may top that profit figure by up to 20 percent.  Its CEO, David Hisco, received $4.2 million last year in pay.  That’s over $2,000 an hour, whereas long-serving frontline staff are on around $25 an hour maximum.

Sitting on his $2,152 an hour, Hisco is offering only a 2% pay rise this year to call centre and back of office staff, plus two percent over two years.  The general ANZ bank workers, the actual frontline staff, are being offered 3% this year and 2.25% next year.

Equally grating is the attempt to introduce a rostering system for new employees which will mean that bank workers’ days and hours of work can be changed month to month and without any guarantee that their work hours will be spread evenly over each day and week.

How are workers to have lives of their own outside of work in a situation where their days and hours of work are changed like this?  While this new ‘flexible’ roster is supposed to apply only to workers being taken on from now onwards, it is, as Pam, one of the Dunedin union delegates, explained to me on the picket line there, the wedge in the door to impose increased flexibility across the bank’s workforce.

Moreover,  Pam explained, the new rostering plans will wipe out chunks of overtime.  For instance, branches which are open on Saturday currently may have only a couple of workers assigned to work Saturdays and other staff who are needed to work as well get paid overtime because they are working additional hours.  That will be gone with the new rostering system.

Epitomising the different world that top management live in, ANZ spokesperson Stefan Herrick declared it to be “disappointing that the union are encouraging staff to take strike action when there is such a good offer on the table.”

On top of the plans for new rosters and the insulting pay offer, staff have to face added pressures.  For instance, there is a lot of pressure now on bank workers to sell, sell, sell the bank’s various packages to the public, with bank workers expected to meet targets.  Customers are also encouraged to grade their ‘experience’ with frontline staff, setting up situations where staff can get negative performance evaluations which can be used against them if the boss wants to further discipline the workforce or doesn’t like a particular worker, perhaps because they sick up for themselves and co-workers against the boss.

The company’s proposals regarding ‘flexibility’ also point up the hypocrisy of their branding efforts.  As FIRST union’s Retail and Finance Secretary, Maxine Gay, notes: “The bank likes to position itself as being part of our community through its volunteer and corporate sponsorship programmes.  Yet ANZ is actively promoting a proposal which would leave bank workers with jobs that they cannot plan their lives around, by chopping and changing their days and start times month by month.”

Not surprisingly, ANZ workers attending meetings on the company’s new contract proposals voted 96% against and 85% voted in favour of strike action.

Isn’t life supposed to get better?  Didn’t the ideologues of capitalism tell us that technological advances would make working life easier, that technology would allow us to have shorter hours for the same (or more) pay?

Technological developments – like ATMs and internet and phone banking – certainly should have made life better for bank workers.  They should have a shorter working week with improving pay.

However, technology doesn’t operate in a vacuum, but within the confines of a particular socio-economic system, capitalism.  This system is driven by the need to maximise profit for the already rich, rather than meet the human needs of the mass of the population and make life better for us.

When our working lives should be getting easier, capitalism means they are getting harder.  We’re working more for comparatively less and, instead of enjoying more leisure time, we’re finding our own time increasingly cut into by bosses’ demands for ‘labour flexibility’ to make their big profits even bigger.

Further reading:
Capitalism and the tyranny of time
Whatever happened to the leisure society?
Low pay, longer hours and less social mobility: welcome to 21st century New Zealand capitalism

  1. malcolm deans says:

    Wow, you're quick off the mark! Good one.


    Sent: Friday, October 10, 2014 at 1:42 PM

  2. PhilF says:

    One of the ‘benefits’ of being unemployed!


  3. oshay says:

    This is one of the reasons why demanding a higher wage is not enough, it needs to be combined with guaranteed hours of work. A girl in one of the classes I attend who works for the Warehouse told me that once they reach the ‘Living wage’ their hours start being cut. On top of that she also said that the Warehouse where she works is being relocated and the staff have to reapply for their jobs. She believes it’s a ploy to replace the long time staff who are now receiving the ‘Living wage’ with new workers who are not yet entitled to it. So much for all this nonsense coming from the left that the CEO of the Warehouse is progressive.

  4. PhilF says:

    A journalist who watches the labour market very closely recently dropped me a line in which he also said, “anecdotal evidence tells me that when a person leaves a firm, their replacement is paid less and expected to do more. One case in point is where one firm I know let three admin people go and replaced them with one new person who was expected to do all the work. Naturally they failed to accomplish all that was expected.”

    We need to monitor, research and write about this continuously.


  5. […] ANZ bank workers take action October 10, 2014 […]