Imagine a workplace where you could be put on a secret register for forgetting to say a word from a call centre script because it would be a breach of company policy. Then, if you left that company and tried to get a new job, your prospective employer would not hire you simply because you were on that register.
You would never know whether you were on that register; you would have no right of appeal; nor would your name ever be removed from it, regardless of whether you were eventually found not guilty of the allegation.
This is now a reality for 160,000 workers across the finance industry.
On July 1, a new weapon against finance workers quietly came into effect. The Banking Industry Background Check Protocol was introduced by the Australian Bankers Association (ABA), led by former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, and the big four banks, supposedly to protect consumers and build trust in the banking industry.
However, in reality it is a major crackdown on alleged code of conduct violations and compliance with company policy.
The Finance Sector Union (FSU) argues that this background check protocol will allow secret reports about employees to be shared between banks. If you happen to be in a report, it could stop you from ever getting another job in the finance industry. As stated in the FSU website “Australians for a Fair Finance Industry”, you would not be able to control what is in the report, but it would stay with you for years without any rights to appeal.
Examples of breaches of the code of conduct or employer policies include failing to follow a strict script in a contact centre, breaching the social media policy, not protecting your employer’s reputation, and not demonstrating the correct behaviours at work. However, any non-compliance can relate to hundreds of policies related to code of conduct and could be open to misuse by a vengeful boss against their direct report, branding a worker as a “bad apple” and leaving them unable to be employed ever again in the finance industry.
The violation of privacy, the impact to future employment and job security, no natural justice, no right to appeal: all of this adds up to a major attack on workers’ rights.
Although genuine criminals in the finance industry should be brought to justice, there is too much power placed in the hands of the bank bosses, putting workers at risk of unfair or trivial allegations of a breach of code of conduct.
The code of conduct background check has its origins in the United States, where it is called the U5. In the Wells Fargo banking scandal, a whistleblower who was reporting on his colleagues’ dubious practices was himself secretly placed onto the U5. After leaving Wells Fargo, he was rejected for employment by other banks. It was only after a sympathetic HR employee stepped out of line and told him that he discovered he had a black mark against his name.
The FSU is fighting this attack on workers, arguing that the scandals and loss of trust in the banking industry are not due to a few bad apples. “They have been the result of a system designed to achieve maximum sales revenue with a management-driven culture that too often says the end justifies the means,” said the FSU.
The FSU has now collected thousands of signatures from bank workers petitioning the Senate to establish a fair and transparent regulator, such as APRA, to run the register rather than the banks.
Although this is a good start, ultimately, it will take workers organising themselves and fight back in order to stop further attacks on workers’ rights.
The July 28 cross delegates meeting at Unions NSW was one opportunity for union delegates to unite their various struggles and it called for days of action across the country.
Green Left Weekly is one weapon workers have in their ongoing battle against the banks and multinationals and their culture of maximising profits. But we cannot do it without your help.
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