Monday 19 February 2018

Industrial action on the cards if jobs cut

Anne-Marie Walsh and Joe Brennan

A union has threatened immediate industrial action if there are compulsory redundancies among 1,000 Bank of Ireland workers affected by plans to sell off three key businesses.

Fears are rising for the jobs after the bank revealed yesterday it had been told by Brussels to sell its New Ireland life assurance and pension business, Bank of Ireland Asset Management and ICS Building Society before December 2014.

It said it had to sell the subsidiaries in a bid to get the go-ahead from the European Commission for a state bailout, including a €3.5bn injection of taxpayers' money and the right to participate in NAMA.

While a final decision is not expected for two months, yesterday's announcement paves the way for Bank of Ireland to launch a massive €3.2bn share-sale deal within the next few weeks.

It is expected that the Government will take about €700m worth of the shares in what is shaping up to be the largest transaction ever completed in Ireland.

The bank would have stood no chance of raising the cash until a number of key issues were cleared up. In recent weeks, it overhauled its pension plan, which was €1.6bn in deficit, and transferred its first batch of loans to NAMA.

But in a phone conversation with senior management the night before the asset sale announcement, Unite, which represents three-quarters of the subsidiary workers, warned industrial action was on the cards if job losses were imposed.

The union represents roughly 500 staff at New Ireland Assurance and 250 at ICS.

Unite regional officer, Colm Quinlan, said it would tell the bank management at a meeting on Monday that it would fight any compulsory redundancies "tooth and nail".

He said the bank could not take the threat lightly as the union had served notice of industrial action on it on four occasions in the past six years, and held two pickets at head office in separate disputes.

"I informed senior management that we will take immediate recourse to industrial action in the event of compulsory redundancies in the context of a change of ownership," said Mr Quinlan.

"We repeated what we said in a letter to the chief executive and chairman last December that was copied to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan that we would only engage in discussions once there were no compulsory redundancies. We will reiterate this next Monday.

"Workers are shocked at the news, but there was uncertainty before the announcement. We have known for the past 18 months that there would be break-ups and consolidations as we represent staff at four of the six institutions covered by the state guarantee.


"It's like the next-door neighbour putting up a 'for sale' sign but we won't know whether it's good or bad news until we see who buys.

"We believe we could manage redundancies on a voluntary basis but a lot depends on whether someone from Ireland or an international buyer takes over."

He said if Irish Life and Permanent, rumoured to be interested in buying parts of the group that has a quarter of the life and pensions market, was the preferred partner, along with New Ireland, they would have 50pc between them.

But there would be an overlap of hundreds of staff, whose jobs would be under threat.

However, senior industry sources poured cold water last night on the prospect of Irish Life getting its hands on New Ireland, as it would lead to significant competition issues.

"The situation at ICS is much more blurred because it is integrated more with the main operation," Mr Quinlan added.

Irish Independent

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