The Modern Era

Job StottJob StotttIn October 1973, the Executive Committee finally filled the vacancy for the position of General Secretary with the appointment of the highly experienced Job Stott – who up to that point had served in a similar capacity with the ESB Officers' Association. The mid 1970s saw further progress on the implementation of equal pay in the banking sector, the introduction of the seven-hour working day, pension parity, frequent transfer and compensation payments.

However, another major dispute began in 1976 when the Government intervened to block a major productivity deal negotiated between the banks and IBOA on the grounds that it exceeded the terms of the National Wage Agreement – even though IBOA was not a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions at that time and was, therefore, not a party to the agreement. The Minister for Labour became directly involved to prevent bank staff benefitting from the deal. After three months of industrial action, IBOA members reluctantly accepted the terms of the National Wage Agreement. However, the productivity concessions were also withdrawn as a consequence. So for the sake of maintaining the appearance of uniformity in the Government's wages policy, both the bank workers and the banks lost out.

With the steady advance of information and communications technology, IBOA negotiated a landmark agreement on Technology and Change in the 1982-83. The Union secured increased salaries, improved rank and regrading, enhanced annual leave, optional early retirement and an improved transferability agreement.

However, as the decade wore on, management became increasingly hostile – developing a new 'American-style' campaign to break the Union. The first indication of this new approach was a bitter dispute in 1987 in Bank of Ireland and AIB over the Technology and Change Agreement – which required industrial action to reach a settlement.

This new management style was part of a new culture in banking which included individual contracts for managers, the growth of performance-related pay, increasing promotional opportunities and the appointment of outsiders to key positions in banks.

At the same time, as the two major Irish banks expanded into Great Britain, IBOA began to organise the British-based staff of AIB and Bank of Ireland.

Ciaran RyanCiaran Ryan

Following Job Stott's retirement in 1989, the Union's Executive Committee appointed Ciaran Ryan as General Secretary. This was a shrewd move. Ryan's career had taken a couple of twists firstly as a trade union official with the Irish Union of Distributive Workers and Clerks (now MANDATE), then as a personnel officer before becoming Divisional Director of the employers' confederation, IBEC.

His appointment came at a time of growing unrest among workers in the financial services sector as managements focussed increasingly on cutting costs. IBOA was increasingly seen as an obstacle to this new agenda – with the result that undermining the Union became an end in itself for managements across the sector.

Matters came to a head in January 1992, when the retail banks awarded managers increases in excess of the terms of the National Wage Agreement – but limited pay increases to non-managerial staff to the national norm. When IBOA commenced limited industrial action in pursuit of pay equity,the response of the banks was to cut salaries even further – or, in the case of AIB to suspend staff with immediate effect.

So began one of the most bitter disputes in the history of the Union. With the majority of bank officials supporting IBOA, the employers attempted to keep the banks open by using non-members, staff who were prepared to pass the official picket and their family members.

When the dispute was eventually resolved in April 1992, IBOA had survived the banks' attempt to break the Union – but not without substantial damage. With around 4,000 members expelled (including most of the managerial grades), major work was necessary to re-build the Union in the face of the more aggressive posture adopted by management.

Members' Meeting at the Point Theatre in 1992The 1992 Strike: Mass meeting of members in the Point Theatre, Dublin.

One of the more positive outcomes of the dispute was the Union's successful legal action against the four main Banks for their decision to cut pay and impose suspensions on staff without due process in the form of the agreed disciplinary procedures. In a number of test cases brought by individual members who had been penalised in this way, the Court endorsed the Union's view that the banks' actions had contravened the principle of natural justice. These cases established an important historic precedent in terms of disciplinary procedures not just for bank staff but for all other employees in the Irish Republic.

A further direct consequence of the dispute was the decision by IBOA's Executive Committee to seek to affiliate to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). ICTU had been of considerable practical assistance to IBOA during the course of the dispute. The IBOA Executive Committee also recognised that in the new era of social partnership that was energing, Congress would be in a position to influence public policy in a number of areas of economic and social development as well as core issues such as pay and the industrial relations framework

Since IBOA formally affiliated to ICTU in July 1993, the Union has played an active and positive role in the organisation. IBOA has been represented on the Congress Executive and has figured prominently in ICTU's key debates and campaigns in recent years.

For the remainder of the 1990s IBOA was engaged in patiently rebuilding its membership base, expanding services for members and re-establishing itself as a major force within the financial services sector. In addition to its traditional heartland in the banking industry, IBOA began to develop membership in a number of other companies operating in finance.

In some cases, the trigger for this development was the outsourcing of work from banks to service providers (which may have involved a transfer of staff). IBOA's approach was to follow the work and, where possible, organise the workers involved.

Larry BroderickLarry BroderickFollowing Ciaran Ryan's retirement in 2001, the Executive Committee decided to promote Larry Broderick to the position of General Secretary. Larry had served as the Union's Assistant General Secretary since 1984 - having previously worked as an industrial relations official with the ITGWU (now SIPTU).

The Associatiion continued to grow in the first years of the new millennium on the back of a number of important advances for its members. At the same time. this additional leverage has enabled the Union to ensure further benefits for membership whenever opportunities arise. Membership increased to almost 24,000.

The Banking Crisis

However, the onset of the banking crisis from the summer of 2008 plunged IBOA into a period of unprecedented turmoil within the sector as the Union moved into a defensive mode aimed at protecting members' jobs, terms and conditions against the backdrop of a severe contraction in Ithe financial sector - which resulted in over 12,000 job losses as well as a lengthy pay freeze – as the landscape of Irish banking changed quite dramatically.

Of the six domestic banking institutions in existence at the start of 2008, only three remain: AIB and Permanent-TSB - which are, to all intents and purposes, completely State=owned; and  Bank of Ireland which is 15% State-owned. Of the other three, EBS has been merged into AIB while Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society were nationalised and merged to form the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) on the basis that it would do no more new business and wind down by disposing of all assets by 2017. In the event the Oireachtas decided in 2013 to accelerate that process by liquidating the company as part of a wider arrangement to reschedule payments due to the European Central Bank for the IBRC's promissory notes. By the end of 2014, almost of all of the IBRC's loan book has been disposed of by the special liquidators (at a better price than had previously been expected) with the balance due to transfer to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) by the end of 2015. NAMA had been established in 2009 to acquire distressed assets from banks at a price well below their face value so that these insitutions could clean up their balance sheets in order to return to something closer to business as usual.

Of the foreign-owned institutions in existence in 2008, the National Irish Bank owned by Danske Bank Group has disappeared from the main street. Having finally shut down its personal and business banking operations in 2014, it now offers a niche corporate banking service (and all the more so following the decision in early 2015 to dispose of a substantal portion of its commercial loans to Bank of Ireland and Goldman Sachs. Nevertheless, Danske remains a significant presence in Northern Ireland - where, having rebranded the former Northern Bank, it remains as the institution least damaged by the crisis by virtue of its traditionally more prudent approach to lending. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Royal Bank of Scotland and either ot its Irish subsidiaries, Ulster Bank or First Active Building Society which had been one of the first lenders to offer 100% mortgages. Although Ulster Bank had traditionally been a prudential lender, its entry into the RBS stable in 2000 - where it was joined by First Active in 2004 – led to a change in direction. With the First Active management team subsequently installed at the top of Ulster Bank, the lender began to develop a much more aggressive approach towards its competitors in terms of lending for major property development as well as more modest house purchases. The result was that the two RBS subsidiaries were particularly badly burned when the property boom came to an abrupt halt in 2008 - alongside the onset of the global banking crisis (which also had its roots in unsustainable property lending in the US).

An immediate consequence of the difficulties in the two RBS-owned lenders was the decision to merge First Active into Ulster Bank - with the loss of just under 1,000 jobs - setting in train a series of restructures which have continued into 2015 - involving a sucession of branch closures and the transfer of work to RBS facilities in the UK and beyond. However, the flow of job roles has not been completely in an outward direction. In February 2015 RBS announced the creation of 350 additional contact centre jobs in Belfast's Danesfort facility to undertake work for customers of RBS and NatWest as well as Ulster Bank.

All of the major retail banking groups have responded to the crisis by closing branches and accelerating the adoption of mobile phone and internet services. Although Bank of Ireland has stood out from the rest by implementing relatively few closures, its branch network is heavily dependent on on-site IT devices which customers are encouraged to use as an alternative to dealing directly with staff whose numbers have been correspondingly reduced. While most institutions that the roll-out of phone and internet services has been driven by customer demand, IBOA members in various employments have suggested that the adoption of these new channels has been forced upon customers by the run-down of traditional forms of interaction with the institutions and their staff.

Aside from reducing their physical footprint, another key trend among most employers in the financial services sector has been the acceleration in the outsourcing of various "non-core" activities to third-party service providers - domestic or foreign - or, in the case of Ulster Bank, to other units within the parent company's business outside Ireland. The Union's approach to outsourcing during this period has been to try to secure as many options as possible for any in-scope staff: to follow the work - on the nest possible terms and conditions - to the new employer; to redeploy within the existing employment; or to take voluntary severance or early retirement. The Union has also tried to retain the right to represent any members who opt to transfer in their future dealings with their new employer. As well as pursuing the interests of members immediately affected by these developments, the Union has also raised concerns with the Financial Regulator about the broader implications of this trend. With IT operations featuring strongly among the areas to be outsourced, the Union has highlighted the implications for the delivery of core banking services since IT is now so crucial to most banking transactions.

While the catastrophic "glitch" in RBS's IT system in 2012 - which had such a profound impact on the customers and staff of Ulster Bank - brought the hypothetical to life and eventually earned a major censure from regulators in both the UK and Ireland, it was not sufficient to place a significant constraint on the freedom of financial institutions to "sub-contract" day-to-day activity for key functions to service providers.

While the Union was largely successful in protecting its members' jobs in the immediate aftermath of the crisis - especially as other enterprises in the financial sector and elsewhere began to shed staff at a rapid rate, it was unavoidable that eventually the major retail banks - where IBOA has traditionally been strong – would begin to rationalise and restructure. Ulster Bank was first into the field announcing around 1,000 job losses in 2009 – and a further 1,000 in 2011 – which were implemented on a voluntary basis, as a result of IBOA's intervention. Though fewer in terms of absolute numbers but greater as a percentage of its workforce, National Irish Bank made an announcement in December 2009 of its plans for 150 voluntary job cuts along with the closure of 50% of its branch network. The stated justification for these measures was the alleged customer preference for mobile phone and internet banking. The subsequent restructure took place in 2010. In June 2012, senior management announced its intention to close the remainder of the branch network with the loss of at least 100 more jobs. Again "changing customer preferences" were cited as a key factor in the decision. During the course of 2013 further staff continued to leave Head Office operations in the now renamed Danske Bank (Republic of Ireland) until in October 2013, the Bank's senior execurtives announced plans to withdraw from personal and business banking completely by mid 2014.

The demise of National Irish Bank/Danske Bank Republic of Ireland stands in stark contrast to developments in its sister institution, Northern Bank/Danske Bank Northern Ireland - which, by virtue of its prudential approach to lending throughout this period, was the least impaired of the banking institutions on the island of Ireland.

 

IBOA - The Finance Union is proud of its honourable history of defending and - where possible, advancing the interests of workers in the financial services sector. But that history lives. So as each member enjoys the benefit of that legacy, he or she can continue to honour that prouid tradition by participating in and supporting their Union as it seeks to protect their jobs, terms and conditions.