Banks braced for strike action and branch closures

HSBC staff to stop work while Lloyds, Clydesdale and Yorkshire shed jobs
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The Independent Online

HSBC staff voted yesterday to strike over pay on 27 May in what will be Britain's first banking strike since 1997, while Lloyds TSB and National Australia Bank announced site closures and job cuts.

HSBC staff voted yesterday to strike over pay on 27 May in what will be Britain's first banking strike since 1997, while Lloyds TSB and National Australia Bank announced site closures and job cuts.

Amicus, Britain's largest private-sector union, urged HSBC to return to the negotiating table to avert the walkout after its members at the bank voted in favour of strike action by two to one.

Ten thousand staff were balloted out of the banking giant's UK workforce of 56,000. Two-thirds of those likely to strike are based in branches, with the rest in call and processing centres.

A spokesman for Amicus said: "We would expect quite a number of branches to close." Rob O'Neill, the union's national officer, said: "This result is unprecedented for a group of workers who are not naturally predisposed to strike action.... We are urging HSBC to work with us to resolve this dispute."

HSBC said it was "deeply disappointed" by the strike threat, which it said was based on a vote by just two in 10 of the union's clerical members and barely 4 per cent of UK staff.

Sue Jex, the bank's head of employee support, said: "We have continued to ask them to meet with the bank and take a more flexible approach to the pay review.... In the event of the union organising industrial action, the bank won't allow a single major branch to close. It expects its phone service to run all day and will experience no adverse effect to its cash machine and internet services."

The strike is planned for the day of HSBC's annual meeting. It is also the Friday before a bank holiday weekend, raising the possibility of a rush on branches on the Thursday.

Amicus is fighting the bank's below-inflation pay deal and cuts to staff bonuses after record annual profits of £9.1bn. It claims up to 10 per cent of staff would get no pay rise this year and a further 45 per cent would get a below-inflation increase.

HSBC responded by saying seven out of 10 clerical staff were paid a bonus of at least 10 per cent of salary and that almost 60 per cent received pay rises above inflation, with only 1 per cent getting no pay rise and no bonus. It said it channelled pay rises at the one-third who earn below-average-market salaries.

Separately, National Australia Bank said it would close 100 branches, 60 at Clydesdale Bank in Scotland and 40 in northern England at Yorkshire bank. About 100 related job losses are included in the 1,700 UK job cuts that have already been announced.

Lloyds TSB, which hit the headlines this week after evidence of reckless lending, said it would shut five sites in the South-west, North-east and South Wales, resulting in the loss of about 400 back-office (account servicing) jobs. The sites affected are in Swansea, Plymouth, Cardiff, Stockton and Taunton.

Lloyds TSB rejected union claims that the job losses are linked directly to its strategy of offshoring thousands of jobs to India. A spokeswoman for the bank said: "It has absolutely nothing to do with offshoring. We are closing smaller sites to consolidate them into larger sites."

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