The flashpoint of the HSBC Bank industrial dispute was the bank’s summary dismissal of its 15 employees who are also NUBE members on Oct. 7, 1999, although the industrial relations between the management and the NUBE had soured very much earlier as a result of the rationalisation and downsizing of bank operations by centralising work processes.
When the HSBC Bank embarked on Voluntary Separation Schemes (VSS) to reduce excess staff, the Union had cautioned the Bank not to "load" additional duties on the remaining staff not consistent or compatible with their job descriptions as the result of the downsizing of the staff numbering 1,100 employees.
Disputes over the "loading" of additional duties on the remaining HSBC Bank staff have resulted in the bank’s summary dismissal of 15 bank employees and NUBE members on Oct. 7, the RM150,000 six-month freeze on annual increments of 240 employees for wearing black as solidarity with the dismissed bank workers, warning letters to hundreds of other employees and the two-hour lunchtime peaceful protest picket by NUBE members in the eight HSBC Bank branches in Penang (Downing Street and Butterworth), Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur (Leboh Ampang and Bukit Bintang), Petaling Jaya, Seremban and Malacca since last Tuesday (2nd November 1999) supported by 20,000 NUBE members from other Banks.
Although the Human Resources Minister had met the NUBE officials on 30th October 1999, it is most regrettable that Lim Ah Lek has not been able to resolve the industrial dispute at the HSBC Bank.
The HSBC Bank industrial dispute will be a great test as to whether the Human Resources Ministry could successfully pre-empt industrial disputes in the banking sector or resolve them speedily when they arise - which will become more and more frequent as a result of the rationalisation of the banking industry, particularly through mergers of banks and financial institutions.
Although Ministers and Bank Negara have claimed that the rationalisation of the financial sector through merger of banks and financial institutions would not result in retrenchments, the HSBC Bank case is proof that this is not possisble as it must result in downsizing of banking staffs, whether by retrenchment or through Voluntary Separation Schemes, plunging the sector into a crisis in industrial relations.