Ulster Bank staff to agree action plan on job fears
STAFF at Ulster Bank will hold a series of 15 meetings across the country over fears of further job cuts and branch closures at the bank.
The bank has left 5,800 staff and hundreds of thousands of customers having to "read between the lines" of the announcements about its future strategy – made last Thursday – according to the Irish Bank Officials Association (IBOA).
That is because the heavily flagged announcement failed to spell out the impact on job numbers and branch closures.
Ulster Bank owner Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) said on Thursday that it was committed to the Irish market but also planned to have a smaller bank here.
In addition, the Irish Independent reported on Friday that the bank was leaving open the prospect of a merger or alliance with third-party investors in relation to its operations in the Republic.
That prompted weekend speculation in the British press that the bank was eyeing a deal with KBC, Danske Bank or Permanent TSB, or alternatively seeking a financial backer to take on a share of the Ulster Bank balance sheet.
The IBOA said it would hold 15 meetings for Ulster Bank members in the Republic and Northern Ireland, starting tomorrow and continuing into next week.
At the meetings, the union, which represents most of the bank's staff, will canvas the views of employees and seek a mandate ahead of upcoming negotiations with the bank's senior management.
Key concerns already raised include:
* Plans to shut an unspecified number of branches.
* Further job cuts and outsourcing due to the integration of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland more closely to RBS, along with plans for closer alignment of infrastructure across the group.
* Implications for staff and customers of the bank's plan to work through all of its problem loans by the end of 2016.
"IBOA is prepared for a comprehensive engagement with Ulster Bank's management – which from our perspective will seek to preserve as many jobs as possible," said union general secretary Larry Broderick.
Mr Broderick said it was ironic for Ulster Bank, of all lenders, to consider branch closures.
"During the recent IT crisis in the summer of 2012, with the IT systems either down or in recovery for a number of weeks, bank workers were able to support customers because they were personally known to them," said Mr Broderick.
In 2012, Ulster Bank was the third bank on the same technology system as RBS and sister bank NatWest and this was seen as the main reason customers here were left without access to their accounts for so long.
The latest indications are that Ulster Bank seems to be planning to integrate its IT systems with those at RBS even more, despite problems encountered in 2012, Larry Broderick said.