NatWest tries to ease pain of huge job losses

Four-day week planned as shutters fall on 300 branches
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The Independent Online
The National Westminster Bank is planning to cut the equivalent of 15,000 jobs - but in a highly unusual initiative to ease the pain it is negotiating a scheme for work-sharing among its employees.

Management and unions are hoping to thrash out an agreement on part-time working and the introduction of a four-day week to cope with the cuts.

The bank yesterday revealed to its 48,000 staff a three-year restructuring plan involving the increased use of new technology and the closure of 300 smaller branches out of 2,100.

Nat West is the latest of the High Street banks to announce sweeping job cuts. According to the banking union Bifu, Barclays Bank has shed 21,800 staff since 1990, Lloyds 15,628 and Midland 9,600. However, the company gave a guarantee that there would be no compulsory redundancies this year and refused to accept union estimates of the cutbacks.

The announcement comes at a time when the banking industry as a whole is facing about 30,000 redundancies over the next few years. Other banks could now be forced to adopt NatWest's more co-operative industrial relations approach.

Senior NatWest sources confirmed there had been a change in managerial philosophy at the bank which was illustrated by the creation of a worldwide staff council. The forum was created in anticipation of a Brussels directive which would eventually have forced NatWest, along with other British-based multinationals, to create a works council.

Rory Murphy, general secretary of the NatWest Staff Association, said the bank should take the credit for involving unions in decisions instead of announcing an "annual cull" of jobs. Management's business forecasts matched those of the association, he said.

"We know there are going to be job losses, but we don't want be standing in the middle of the M3 trying to stop the traffic. We want to ensure that with management co-operation the cuts are made fairly and equitably."

Alan Ainsworth, chief negotiator at NatWest for the Banking Insurance and Finance Union (Bifu) said senior managers had abandoned their strategy of railroading cuts through as they did in 1992 when there were large scale redundancies. Since 1991 more than 16,000 staff have left the bank - 4,400 of them last year.

Mr Ainsworth said the new policy of was not based on altruism but self- interest. "Nat West's record so far has not been exemplary. The new policy is based on business imperatives and a practical recognition that it is better to do it with the co-operation of the unions," he said.

The bank had made pre- tax profits of pounds 1.75bn in the year to December compared with pounds 1.59bn in the previous 12 months and therefore should be able to undertake a restructuring exercise without making people compulsorily redundant in the years to come, Mr Ainsworth said.

Tony Warren, managing director of NatWest's retail banking subsidiary, refused to confirm union estimates of the scale of cuts, but said the bank had to face the fact that it needed fewer employees. He said the bank needed to respond to the growing use of self-service banking through cash machines and by telephone.