Unionised Westpac workers have gathered in downtown Auckland to call for better pay during a rare bank worker strike.
“They have to be very, very angry to go on strike, but we’ve been trying to negotiate for more than five months,” First Union organiser Bill Bradford told the Herald.
Workers gathered from noon outside the bank’s Takutai Square headquarters in Britomart.
Bradford said Westpac workers since 2021 had pay rises well below the financial and insurance services sector average.
“They’ve been constantly falling behind, having to work harder and harder. It’s very insulting.”
The union has rejected the offer of a 7 per cent pay increase over 18 months and a one-off $1000 payment to staff.
The union inflated a large cigar-chomping “capitalist pig” dressed in a top hat, black waistcoat, striped shirt and white underpants.
“Staff at Westpac are struggling to meet their basic needs of housing and food,” First Union organiser Jane Marti said.
She said bank worker strikes were very unusual.
“They’re a very conservative bunch. For them to take this action, it shows the depth of feeling about the insult of the offer.”
Marti said she was prevented from visiting staff at the Takutai Sq offices.
She said some union members considering joining the industrial action were told their own management prospects could be in jeopardy if they joined the demonstration.
“It’s a worker’s legal right to strike.”
Marti said the union would consider legal action if management acted in bad faith.
Westpac rejected claims it was obstructing any staff from joining the strike.
“We respect the right of union members to participate in lawful industrial action,” a Westpac spokesperson said this afternoon.
“Westpac is not preventing any union members from participating in today’s strikes,” she added.
“We declined a request from a small group of union representatives to access the building to meet with senior management during the protest.”
A banner urging Westpac to “pay up” was attached to the inflated pig. The banner referred to a “$1.05 billion profit”.
Westpac New Zealand reported a 33 per cent fall in net profit to $426 million for the six months to March this year. Last year, it reported net profit after tax was up 12 per cent to $1.047b for the year to September 30.
Westpac yesterday said it was open to constructive discussion with the union on a resolution.
It has said the 7 per cent increase was above what it called the forecast inflation track.
“We believe our remuneration compares favourably to other employers in the financial services sector and includes a range of attractive benefits for all employees, such as a market-leading one week of wellbeing leave on top of annual leave, discounted banking, competitive superannuation and subsidised health insurance.”
The bank said it was committed to minimising any disruption to customers, and said union members were a minority of Westpac’s overall workforce.
Westpac NZ said it had about 5000 employees and First Union said about 850 were union members. They included tellers, lenders, workers in other public-facing roles, and some back office staff.
The union issued strike notices yesterday.
In some cases, the industrial action involved workers staying at home.
The majority of actions involved two-hour strikes from 12pm to 2pm.
First Union’s Bradford this afternoon said workers were also open to constructive discussion with Westpac.
But he said if the situation did not improve, more strike action was possible.
And Bradford said if the bank did not act in good faith, the next strike action would happen at shorter notice.
John Weekes is online business editor. He has covered courts, politics, crime and consumer affairs. He rejoined the Herald in 2020, previously working at Stuff and News Regional, Australia.