Ulster Bank axes 950 jobs


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The Independent Online

Some 950 Ulster Bank workers are facing redundancy by the end of the year in a second swathe of massive job cuts which trade unions branded as breathtaking.

No branches are expected to close but 600 employees in the Republic of Ireland and 350 in Northern Ireland will be battling for their future.

Larry Broderick, general secretary of the Irish Bank Officials Association, said the impact of the latest round of cuts could be even more severe than the 1,000 lay-offs in 2009.

"The sheer magnitude of this second wave of proposed redundancies is breathtaking," he said.

Ulster Bank, a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) which today announced a separate 3,500 job cuts in its investment wing, claimed it was taking the drastic action to remain competitive.

Branches are not expected to be closed, it added.

Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland Enterprise Minister, said such a significant number of job losses is very worrying.

"With front line staff facing redundancies, it is important that senior management in RBS are seen to be behaving in a responsible manner as the organisation moves forward," she said.

Mr Broderick said he will be seeking clarification from Ulster Bank's parent, RBS, on its commitment to Ireland.

"Our members feel very strongly that Ulster Bank staff are continuing to suffer for the mismanagement, incompetence and greed of senior management in Ulster Bank's parent company, RBS, which has been nationalised in all but name, as a result of the biggest collapse in British corporate history," Mr Broderick said.

RBS has been refinanced with £45.5 billion of British taxpayers' money and is more than 80% state-owned.

Ulster Bank, although a major player and loser in the Irish property boom and bust over the last decade, is not part of the Irish Government's bank bailout scheme or the bad-bank recovery plan through the National Asset Management Agency (Nama).

Two high profile plans it helped finance in the dying days of the boom were the sale of the Jury's hotel sites in Dublin's Ballsbridge, a reported 379 million euro deal led by property developer Sean Dunne, and a proposal to revamp a shopping district around Arnotts on the city's Henry Street.

In a statement, Ulster Bank said: "As local and global economies continue to deteriorate, these actions are being taken as part of the bank's overall business strategy to ensure the organisation is well placed to compete effectively in the market."

The bank hopes to secure all redundancies by the end of the year.

Negotiations with the IBOA, which represents 3,500 staff, begin tomorrow before redundancy offers are tabled. During the last round of cuts, the bank paid seven and a quarter weeks wages for every years of service.

An Ulster Bank spokeswoman insisted the target is to secure 950 voluntary redundancies.

It is believed the retail wing of the bank will bear the brunt with 446 lay-offs even though the bank insisted it does not have a list of potential branch closures. Elsewhere, Corporate Markets could lose 184 staff and the Chief Operating Office 155. The balance will be made up in other areas.

Mr Broderick added: "While those responsible have escaped with impunity - through golden parachutes and the like - and while those charged with restoring the fortunes of RBS are apparently due to be handsomely rewarded with generous bonuses, the ordinary staff throughout RBS have been called upon to bear a disproportionate amount of the pain."

Adrian Kane, insurance and finance sector organiser at trade union Siptu, said that the number of redundancies being sought is unacceptably high.

"The trade union movement was in a position during the good times to negotiate redundancy packages for workers that would tie people over until they found alternative employment," Mr Kane said.

"There are no realistic job opportunities for finance industry workers in the short-term in the current economic climate and, accordingly, we will be fighting to maintain jobs at all costs."

Ulster Bank has 1.9 million customers and employs about 6,000 staff through 236 branches, 59 business banking offices and over 1,200 ATMs.

Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said: "If the experience of the construction sector is anything to go by, where vast numbers of workers find their sector a job-free zone, then those in the banking sector who are about to lose their jobs must be looking on in despair."

The IBOA criticised the Dublin Government's jobs minister Richard Bruton and accused him of failing to engage with calls for a forum to look at practical measures to create jobs for laid off-financial workers.

Brian Hayes, a junior minister in the coalition, insisted the Ulster Bank redundancies were inevitable given the scale of losses in the banking sector worldwide.

"It's obviously a dreadful blow to the workers. Government will do everything it can, given the fact that this is not a covered institution, to make sure that the negotiations between workers and bank officials produce some result," he told RTE Radio.

"It's a difficult outworking of the financial crisis."