STATE-OWNED AIB is considering outsourcing as many as 1,000 jobs – and cannot rule out some of the work ultimately going abroad.
The main union at the bank said the idea of jobs at a state-owned bank going abroad needed to be examined if the Government was serious about the jobs crisis at home.
"It seems to us that maintaining jobs in this country should be at least as big a priority as creating new jobs," a spokesman for the Irish Bank Officials' Organisation (IBOA) said.
AIB confirmed that outsourcing was being considered as part of a plan aiming to "reduce costs and increase efficiencies; outsourcing of certain functions would be considered in consultation with the IBOA and affected staff".
Under outsourcing arrangements, the bank would continue to provide customer services but depending in the function some, or even all, of the work could be done by third-party contractors. Once the work moves outside AIB, it could end up being done anywhere, including by lower-cost operators abroad.
Staff and the union have been briefed on the review over the past week. But it's understood the process is at an early stage.
Even so, the bank is looking at cutting up to 8pc of its 12,000 remaining staff under the plan.
As previously reported by the Irish Independent, the jobs affected are likely to include more than 100 staff working in the bank's cheque clearing unit, which has become less important thanks to the increased used of electronic transfers.
Staff in the clearing division have been told a decision on its future will be made in November, including whether the work will be contracted to an outside provider.
As many as 750 staff in the IT department are also now potentially affected, as well as workers in other areas of the bank.
If the technology functions are outsourced, it is sure to raise fears of a possible repeat of the notorious meltdown at Ulster Bank in 2012, when customers in Ireland waited weeks to regain access to their digital accounts after a computer problem in Edinburgh, where the bank's IT process was controlled by its British-based parent.
At AIB, management and the IBOA agreed a process for handling the process surrounding the outsourcing of jobs in August at the Labour Relations Commission.
The deal rules out compulsory redundancies if work is hived off to outside agents.
Options for staff could include voluntary redundancy, redeployment within AIB, or being transferred to the new operator. The union said it would push for staff terms and conditions to be maintained, if they were transferred to any outsider contractor. But if jobs go abroad there would be little prospect of any current staff holding on to their positions.
Sources at AIB said the plans are far from concrete and are dependent on a review.
By Donal O'Donovan