Thursday, June 02, 2005

Bank workers strike over peanuts

AROUND 3,000 members of the union Amicus employed by the HSBC bank took strike action last Friday in protest over a pay deal that left 10 per cent of staff with no pay rise and another 45 per cent with below-inflation rises.
The union picketed the annual shareholders’ meeting in London on the day of the strike, handing out peanuts to those attending to express their feelings about the pay – and warned there would be further industrial action.
Shareholders turning up at the meeting were offered peanuts by protesting staff, highlighting the derogatory pay deal that has been imposed on them despite record profits of £9.6 billion.
Shouts of “HSBC pays peanuts!” filled the air as Amicus members did all they could to raise awareness of their employer’s actions.
The response from shareholders was varied but many understood the need to reward staff for their hard work.
The shareholders’ meeting challenged HSBC chairperson Sir John Bond about his £3.6 million pay packet. One shareholder said this was like “winning the lottery at the weekend as well as during the week”.
One of the striking members of staff was also a shareholder. He told the meeting: “I hope you [Sir John Bond] can sleep at night because I know people who can’t sleep at night because they can’t pay their bills.”
Among the comments made by various shareholders to the picketing strikers were: “The staff should be paid more and they [HSBC] should also employ more staff in the branches; they’ve made enough money.”
“Staff should definitely receive at least the rate of inflation; they are the ones who make the money.”
“Of course I support the staff, totally.”
Rob O’Neill, Amicus national secretary for HSBC was there to show his support. He spoke out about the impending strike action. “It has become very clear that further strikes could go ahead, we are very reluctant to take this action but we have been left with no other option. The staff work hard for their employers and this deserves to be recognised. The only way to resolve this dispute is through negotiation and so far HSBC have refused to do this.”
The bank tried to play down the impact of the strike, claiming that only 1,471 had taken part in the strike and then in a slip admitted that “thousands” had walked out.
The bank also claimed that none of its branches or processing centres had been closed while Amicus said that a processing centre in Birmingham had been closed, along with branches in Liverpool, Preston, Grantham and parts of Scotland had been closed.
And clearly HSBC was concerned about the strength of the strike because immediately after the shareholders’ meeting Michael Geoghegan, the head of retail operations in Britain, raced to Manchester to talk up morale in local branches.
Other senior staff left to carry out the same mission in South Wales and other areas of union militancy