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BFCSA: Cowboys and Indians in the banking sector - if we fail to act consumers left unprotected

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October 2006


Cowboys and Indians

Interview with Peter Lewis

Finance Sector Union national secretary Paul Schroder is standing between the big banks and a bucket of money.

This issue has attracted public attention recently because some of the banks and finance companies have started their campaigns of sacking Australian workers and sending financial data offshore.   Examples include 485 workers under threat at Westpac's Concord Centre, 76 workers at Kogarah and in Adelaide from St George/Bank SA and 140 workers in credit cards at the National Australia Bank. This is just the beginning if the banks don't change the course or the Federal Government continues to do nothing.

Who is pushing the offshoring of back room facilities - the banks or the offshore suppliers?   A bit of both. The banks don't need to do this they are highly profitable and are the most efficient banks in the world. However, the stock market analysts and senior management are in a race to the bottom on costs and are looking at new ways to save money and reduce wages. Going for cheaper employees in India, the Philippines and China is the latest fad. Obviously, the companies running offshore providers, particularly in India, are very aggressive in promoting their services.

You have run a strong public campaign in the past couple of weeks what has been the response of the banks? Do they respond to public pressure?   The funny thing about banks is they want to pretend they are listening but act as if they're not changing course for anyone. Publicly they need to look like they're responsive but to their staff they want to prove they're completely in charge. Recent messages back from inside they banks suggest that they are taking heat over this issue and I think it will have an impact on their decision making. Our goal is to reverse this trend to protect Australian jobs and Australian consumers. The louder that message is sent the more likely it is to be successful.

What is your attitude to the workers in India? Should we be blaming them for taking Australian jobs?    The Finance Sector Union is a member of the Union Network International (UNI), we work closely on this issue with all affiliates including a wide range of Indian Unions who are supportive of our cause. This is not about one group of workers versus another group of workers it is about the future of the Australian Finance Industry, which is extremely important to the Australian economy. We are completely committed to ensuring that this debate is not about culture, race or language.

Isn't globalisation a reality and we have to cop the down side?   International trade is a reality and we operate in a global economy. That does not mean we should give up on Australian jobs, decent wages and conditions and being a strong advocate for the Australian finance industry.

You took a group of workers whose jobs were threatened to Canberra - what was the reaction there?   We had a fantastic group of FSU reps who joined together with ASU reps from Qantas to take the message about the dangers of global outsourcing to jobs and consumers to the politicians in Canberra. We spoke to the Opposition leader, Kim Beasley, the Opposition treasury spokesperson, Wayne Swan and Human Services Minister, Joe Hockey. The delegates took a very strong message from their personal experience and we believe the message is starting to get through. We've since written to the Prime Minister and we are still waiting on a response.

What should we expect our elected leaders to do about the situation? Is it enough to say that businesses should be free to make commercial decisions?

They've got to get involved and stand up for Australian jobs and Australian Consumers. There are a number of very effective things they could do that are really straight forward. What we need is the will to do it. The Unions have clearly explained in our joint policy how the Federal Government could make an important difference to this entire debate.

You have been promoting right to know legislation - are there models any where else internationally on how such laws work?  

At the moment customers do not know and have no control over where their sensitive financial data is housed or processed. We believe that the Government should introduce laws that make it mandatory that companies inform their customers if data is to be sent offshore and requires a customer’s permission before any details are sent offshore. This could easily be accommodated in the Privacy Act and requires only minimal adjustment to existing legislation. Minor redrafting could lead to significant positive changes for jobs and consumers.

How realistic is it to think a bank might commit to Australian jobs? What sort of response do you think they would receive from consumers?   Mmmmmmmmmm. On past form you'd have to be pessimistic but each of them is trying to transform their reputations after the disastrous effects of their branch closure regimes. Our research shows that the Australian public is absolutely on side with this call. The banks that get this right will be rewarded but rather than rely on the banks themselves, the Government should become involved so the banks stop competing with each other in relation to this area altogether.

What do you see the long term future of the Australian finance industry - best and worst scenarios??   The Australian Finance Industry makes up over 46% of the Australian Stock Exchange and banking and insurance employs nearly 300,000 people. If we get it right the industry will grow and consumers rights will be well looked after. If we fail to act we could end up with over 50,000 jobs lost with bank's head offices in London, Paris and New York and their back offices in Bangalore, Manilla and Beijing. Getting this wrong will leave finance in Australia as an empty shop front with consumers having even less say in how their banking is done and how their identity is protected


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