NIB appoints mediator as talks on job cuts stall
Unions seek to protect interests of remaining staff after 150 workers are axed
Published 12/01/2010 | 05:00
TALKS between National Irish Bank (NIB) and unions over the group's plan to axe 150 jobs and close almost half its branch network have hit a deadlock, with the main sticking point understood to be over how remaining staff will fare.
NIB, where Andrew Healy is chief executive, confirmed yesterday that it and the IBOA finance union "have sought third party assistance".
Sources say that Kevin Foley, of the Labour Relations Commission, has been brought in to act as an independent mediator. He was similarly involved in paving the way for an accord between Ulster Bank and staff unions last year over the Royal Bank of Scotland-owned group's redundancy scheme, targeting 1,000 people.
The IBOA finance union has rejected Danish-owned NIB's severance proposal of six weeks' wages for every year of service, subjected to an overall cap of two years' salary. It has argued that this is below the Ulster Bank deal, seen as a benchmark, which offered up to eight weeks' pay per year worked, capped at 30 months.
The group employs about 634 people and plans to implement the massive restructuring over the next 18 months.
The union has also taken issue with the terms of an early retirement option being offered to staff over the age of 55, according to sources, which it claims could equate to a 40pc reduction of pension benefit.
But its main gripe is with the bank's lack of commitment to protect terms and conditions of remaining staff that will be affected by the group's plans to close 25 of its 58 branches and merge their operations with nearby branches. It is looking for clarity on the handling of instances where there is a surplus of staff on a certain grade in branches. The IBOA has told the bank that it is obliged to assess employees and appoint them to roles that match their skill set.
Loss-making NIB, which was acquired along with sister bank Northern Bank by Dankse Bank in 2005, is looking to push through an agreement as quickly as possible. It comes at a time when its Copenhagen-based parent deals with mounting questions from investors and analysts over the ill-timed acquisition.
The agreement to resort to mediation comes only a month after NIB's massive restructuring plan was announced. It took about three times as long for Ulster's negotiations to reach a similar stage. The outcome is likely to be closely watched by the domestic institutions, which, with the exception of Permanent TSB's recently-announced 120 job cuts, have so far avoided going down the redundancies route.
AIB's managing director, Colm Doherty, hinted strongly to staff last month that job shedding will be on the cards as the group looks to rein in its cost base as income declines.