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Bank must clean up act - Greens

29 March 2005

Bank must clean up act - Greens

Green MP Sue Bradford has this afternoon in the House slammed the Westpac Bank for its industrial relations record.

"This bank was one of the two recipients of the Roger Award this year for the worst transnational company in New Zealand," she said.

The Westpac Bank Bill, which aims to incorporate the bank in New Zealand, had its first reading in the House today.

Ms Bradford outlined poor treatment of staff by the bank identified in the Roger Report.

Examples included: a pregnant woman staff member told she had to provide a doctor's certificate to prove she was in fact expecting a child, shiftwork staff in the Wellington office left stranded at the Railway Station after trains had finished running for the night and workers being set unrealistic performance targets in order to sell increasingly large debt to customers.

"It's unacceptable that an employer should act in this way," Ms Bradford says.

While the number of branches has been slashed by more than half over the past 10 years and the number of staff cut by 26 percent, the bank has increased its profits almost fourfold, but increased wages just 27 percent.

"I am hopeful that when considering the Bill MPs will ensure that matters of labour relations and good corporate citizenship are taken into consideration."

(Speech follows)

WESTPAC BANK BILL - FIRST READING WEDNESDAY 29 MARCH 2006 Sue Bradford, MP

Madam Speaker

The Green Party supports the introduction of the Westpac Bank Bill for the simple reason that we believe the banking system operating in this country should be more under the control of this country.

We support the policy of the Reserve Bank as noted in the explanatory note to the Bill that "systemically important banks should be locally incorporated in New Zealand".

Although Westpac may find it is having to make a giant leap in having to incorporate here, including through this legislative process, in reality this Bill is only a small step in the long march for New Zealand to regain its economic sovereignty.
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I, like many others, was bitterly disappointed when the Trustbanks in New Zealand - with the exception of Auckland and Taranaki - were amalgamated and then privatised into Westpac's grip. These Trust Banks were synonymous with communities, ordinary kiwis' mortgages, and local economic development.

Of course the assets of these Trust Banks continue to support the communities of this country, but this is not the same thing as owning the bank, of having some local control over local saving and investments.

And let's see what has happened in the last 10 years since Westpac took over the Trustbank network.

Well, in the prestigious Roger Awards for the worst transnational operating in New Zealand, the 2006 award went jointly to Westpac and the Bank of New Zealand.

The judges' report and supporting documents make sobering reading.

Ten years ago Westpac (and Trust Bank which it later took over) used to employ 6,760 staff. Today it employs only 5,004 staff. That's a reduction of 26%. Yet its profit of $ 617 million is 396% more than it was 10 years ago.

So, staff who used to make the bank an average $146,000 operating income per year, now need to make the bank $340,000 operating income a year. Staff have been forced to become more than twice as profitable for their bank, but their pay rates have only risen by 27% in those ten years.

The bank forces up its profits by setting sales targets for staff to meet. Those targets grow each year to match the bank's greed for larger profits, but the number of people employed to meet those targets falls.

The number of Westpac branches has reduced in the last 10 years from 433 to 196 - a reduction of 54%.

This is despite Westpac's total assets growing from $21 billion in 1994 to $42 billion in 2004 - a growth of 100%.

Net profit after taxes for Westpac and Trustbank combined grew from $155 million to $617 million between 1995 and 2005 - a growth of 396%.

Inflation

One of the pressures on interest rates is banks such as Westpac using performance pay targets to compel their staff to sell higher and higher levels of debt to customers.

The Governor of the Reserve Bank has expressed concern on this matter. Westpac Chief Executive, Ann Sherry, simply rejected the Governor's claims that banks are playing a role in fuelling inflation, suggesting the bank was simply responding to customer demand.

Westpac Customer service workers are set a target of 8,575 points per year to meet performance standards. They get 10 points for opening a new account but they get an extra 25 points for selling a credit card. Westpac Customer Consultants are required to get 13,305 points. They get 5 points for every $10,000 of home loans they sell and 5 points for every $1,000 of personal lending.

Poor Work Practices

At union meetings at Westpac over the last year workers have complained of:

Being unable to take holidays at the same time as their children, or being asked to return from holidays because their worksite was understaffed. Entire offices working late or missing morning and afternoon tea breaks without compensation. High workload causing stress and pressure on families of workers. Workers coming to work because of workload pressures despite being sick.

Bullying is not uncommon within Westpac. In one case a pregnant woman in the call centre was told she would have to make up time after work if she went to a specialist appointment.

The husband called her union, Finsec, distressed at this behaviour. A Finsec organiser subsequently informed the call centre team leader of their responsibilities under the Parental Leave Employment Act. The team leader then demanded that the 20 week pregnant woman produce a doctor's certificate to prove that she was pregnant and that the specialist appointment was related to the pregnancy.

Workers doing the late shift at the Phone Assist Call centres in Auckland and Wellington do not get taxis home despite some of them not having cars and the fact that in Wellington there is no appropriate parking available anyway. Instead Wellington staff have been taxied to the train station, despite the trains having finished running for the night.

At one branch, two staff members with outstanding performance records have gradually had their target review levels fall from 5 (outstanding) to 1 (the lowest mark) because they worked in a small town with a saturated market. They were put on performance improvement plans because of their low marks and threatened with transfer to another branch in a nearby town.

Call centre workers are monitored so closely that when they make a three-minute call to the union they have been threatened with having to make up that time after work at the end of the day. Call centre staff have also been spoken to for taking more than three toilet breaks during the day, and if they spend more than 17 minutes not ready on the phone during an eight-hour day, their quality assessment can be marked down thus potentially affecting their pay.

Poor work practices

The Report of the Roger Award also outlined how Westpac, along with all other big banks have used tax avoidance strategies to borrow overseas, channel the money through NZ and re-lend it overseas. Through what the report described as a "scam" these banks are paying as little as 6.7% tax instead of the official company rate of 33%. This information came from Reserve Bank documents that were leaked to the media.

Reliable estimates of the tax owed by the "gang of four" are put at $NZ1.63 billion. The unexpected taxation windfall of $500 million announced by Dr Cullen prior to the last election is believed by economic observers to come from the major banks.

Partisan

Finally NZ Westpac customers of all political persuasions have to put up with the highly partisan and ideological comments of Westpac Chief Economist, Brendon O'Donovan.

For all intents and purposes Mr O'Donovan acts as the economic cheerleader for the National Party and is a constant critic of the economic policies of Labour, the Greens or any other of the Government support parties. There was blatant politicking from Mr O'Donovan prior to the last election.

To give one example, Mr O'Donovan attacked Labour and Green's student loan policies pre the election, and was subsequently forced to admit that some of the estimates that he was using to cost the scheme were extreme.

The then Education Minister Trevor Mallard, described O'Donovan's figures as "inflammatory, self-motivated garbage" and stated that the bank had "very selfish reasons" for opposing the policy.

Mr O'Donovan has also attacked the Working for Families package and strongly advocated unsustainable tax cuts.

He has even recently attacked the Government's Buy Kiwi-Made programme that I am responsible for, before it has even been designed.

Looking ahead

I hope that the Select Committee takes a good look at this Bill when it reaches them. The fact that an Act of Parliament is needed to facilitate the incorporation of Westpac in New Zealand means that Westpac should have even more obligations to be a good corporate citizen and a good employer. Its corporate behaviour will have to change on a number of fronts.

I urge the Select Committee not just to go through the motions of hearing submissions and reporting back the Bill. They also have an obligation to determine whether this legislation will change the behaviour of this bank. And if it will not, they should consider what amendments will be necessary to make sure that a Bank, relying on an Act of Parliament to incorporate in New Zealand acts as a good corporate citizen and good employer.

ENDS

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