The bank said compulsory redundancies would be kept to a minimum and used 'only as a last resort'. But the assurance was greeted with suspicion by union leaders, who said there were 1,500 forced departures last year at NatWest, in a net total of 5,000 job cuts.
Alan Ainsworth, assistant secretary of the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union, said: 'I need to see something very much in black and white before I believe them.'
There are widespread fears among bank staff about the long- term attrition of jobs in their industry as banks introduce new technology, and services such as telephone banking expand.
Bifu is to meet NatWest later this week, but was yesterday sounding out members over whether they are prepared to back industrial action. Mr Ainsworth said he knew of one area, Manchester, that was already prepared to contemplate it.
Last month Bifu held a one-day strike at TSB over the threat of compulsory redundancies, but later reached a settlement after talks at Acas.
Martin Gray, head of branch banking at NatWest, said compulsory redundancies would be fewer in 1993 because this year's cuts covered a wider range of working areas, allowing more scope for early retirements, voluntary schemes and natural wastage.
Last year the cuts were mainly in clerical areas, where there were fewer options. The numbers were also higher, with 8,000 jobs going in the branches, offset by 3,000 jobs created, many of them in new areas such as life assurance.
This year, 4,200 jobs are to be cut in branch banking, with 1,000 new jobs expected to be created, giving a net change of 3,200. A further 600 jobs will go in group services and 200 in NatWest Markets, the City dealing arm of the bank, bringing the net total in the UK to 4,000.
Bifu believes the job cuts have been stepped up. When NatWest announced a five-year plan to cut 15,000 jobs several years ago, the union understood this was a gross figure and that as many as half the total losses would be offset by new jobs.
But with 4,000 net losses in 1991, 5,000 in 1992 and another 4,000 this year, the earlier figure now looked misleading, Mr Ainsworth said.
Mr Gray said there were four reasons for the cuts. Economic growth was slow, affecting the traditional business.
Technology, particularly in the back office and in processing, allowed individual staff to carry out more operations.
Customer preferences were changing, with 70 per cent of all cash withdrawals through cash dispensers and increasing use of telephone banking. Finally, economies of scale had led to centralisation of processing for groups of branches.Reuse content