International unions ask Santander to enter talks to avoid job cuts

  • Lusa
  • 15 September 2021

In an internal memo on August 20, Santander Totta announced that it had been unable to reach an agreement on the departure of 350 workers, from a total of 685 initially planned.

International trade union leaders have responded to an appeal by Portugal’s UGT federation by sending a letter to the executive chairman of Santander Group in Madrid, asking her to discuss with trade unions in Portugal ways to avoid the redundancies that the local banking unit has announced.

“We urge her to engage in a genuine dialogue with the Portuguese unions in question and to continue the search for a timely and mutually negotiable solution in respect of workers’ rights, protecting their jobs and working conditions,” reads the letter sent to Ana Botín-Sanz, who heads the Spain-based group.

The UGT had last week sent a letter to the leaders of the main international organisations to which it is affiliated, appealing for their support in the struggle of Portugal’s bank workers against planned redundancies at Santander Totta, as well as at rival BCP.

Following this appeal, the general secretaries of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the Global Union Federation (UNI) and its European wing, representing unions from the services sector, including banking, sent a letter to Botín-Sanz, asking the group to look again at the planned job cuts in Portugal.

In the missive they recall that the banking unions affiliated to the UGT – Mais Sindicato/Sindicato do Setor Financeiro, Sindicato dos Bancários do Centro and Sindicato dos Trabalhadores do Setor Financeiro de Portugal – have been in conflict with Santander Totta (BST) since September 2020. Over the past year, it continues, Santander Totta employees have been subjected to threats and pressure to accept the termination of their employment contracts and are now faced with procedures for a collective dismissal.

“We express our deep concern about the continued behaviour of Banco Santander in Portugal,” the letter reads. “Under the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic and the acceleration in the use of digital tools, the bank shows a total disregard for the welfare of its workers by going ahead with its restructuring plans, regardless of trade union calls for a considered approach. Such a situation undermines the basic principles of social dialogue and leaves hundreds of workers at risk of unemployment during precarious times.”

Portugal’s banking sector unions last week said that they would schedule a joint strike later this month if BCP and Santander Totta maintained their intention to make redundancies.

Portugal’s banks are cutting thousands of jobs this year – following 15,000 job cuts between 2009 and 2020 – with BCP and Santander Totta those going the furthest, including plans for collective redundancies.

In an internal memo on August 20, Santander Totta announced that it had been unable to reach an agreement on the departure of 350 workers, from a total of 685 initially planned, and would move forward with a process of “unilateral and formal” job cuts, starting in September.

The unions have accused the banks of intimidation of and blackmail against workers, arguing that they are being forced them to accept terminating their contracts or early retirement.

Union officials have also had meetings with political leaders, including the president of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the parliamentary parties and members of the government, to ask them to intervene to block the redundancy plans.