South Africa’s biggest banking sector’s union, South African Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) has announced that over 40,000 finance sector employees will take part in a strike against retrenchments in the industry on Friday, 27th September, 2019.

The protest is planned to kick off nationwide at 10h00 on Friday. We are now being warned to make sure that we have enough money ahead of the strike as ATMs and online banking services will all be down. The Business Unity South Africa (Busa) wants the Labour Court to declare the looming banking sector strike as unprotected. The court will make ruling today (Thursday, 26th September, 2019).

I tried to avoid writing about banks on this blog because I generally do not like how our banks conduct their business. I have many friends who have big positions in the banking sector and I do not want them to feel bad. But with this development in South Africa, I have no choice but to weigh in my thoughts.

Eleven years ago, I lamented about how banks in Southern Africa make huge profits by milking of their clients in Southern Africa, a region where many countries are undergoing tough economic conditions. Most of the banks that dominate this region are South African, and are at the centre of the planned retrenchments.

The retrenchments and closure of branches are understandably being triggered by the ongoing global trend of digitization and automation of banking services. The banks should, however, not just be motivated by the profits emanating from automation of systems at the expense of their employees who have been with them through thick and thin in the past years.

I feel for the people that are being threatened with retrenchment. Since government fails to force banks to cut the excessive charges that they put on their customers, I am afraid these poor people that will lose their jobs will be left on their own, with no financial resources to support their quest for justice. These retrenchments are simply inhumane to say the least.

In my view, banks should just make sure that none of their employees ends up jobless. Let natural attrition take its course. Re-skill those employees that can still learn new skills and redeploy those that are at a stage where it is not easy to learn new stuff.

Banks do a lot of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities. As the saying goes, charity begins at home. Banks ought to take good care of their employees first before they go out on the CSR activities.

The strike by Sasbo, if it goes ahead, will have a negative impact on the economy but in light of the stubbornness of the banks, it is the right way forward, in my opinion. Maybe these profit hungry bosses will listen!

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