The banking sector in Europe employs more than 4 million persons in the EU27. It was dramatically hit by the recent crisis and impacted by new regulations (such as Basel III, the bank secret rules, etc.). The pace and direction of restructuring has been profoundly affected, however, by the financial crisis of 2008 and its long reach into the Euro crises of 2011-12 that are continuing to have major consequences, including on the directly concerned banking sector itself. Only between 2008 and 2010, 250.000 jobs were lost in the EU27 banking sector alone - a 6% fall compared to the 2.4% total fall over those two years (Eurofound, 2011). Employment reduction has been particularly significant in countries with strongly developed, dynamic and international financial centres with a large share of GDP like the London area, Luxembourg, Vienna, Paris, and Bucharest. Restructuring took also place in new member states. Many finance sector employees have seen their status and their job characteristics change considerably. Working for a bank was once a “job for life” with high prestige, a distinct status and job security and good job prospects. The emphasis was on banks as solid reliable organizations where the lack of change was a touchstone of reliability (Jefferys, 2011). Employees felt a strong company identity and the job profile was quite sophisticated. Since the early 1990s, however, the job profile shifted considerably from an emphasis on a highly sophisticated customer consultancy to a target-defined sales job, lacking the former prestige and status. The international restructuring of value chains shifted centres of decision-making. Both the old and the new EU member states were impacted by this process.

This situation creates a challenge to social partners from the sector. There is a need of quick answer to changes and restructuring by the representatives of employees. But, how to do it in the context of a sector characterised by the culture of secret, the competition between countries, and the changing regulations? In countries with well-established social dialogue structures, these new challenges require new answers. Thus, for example, some French major groups in the financial sector are now involved in a transnational social dialogue about anticipation of changes (see especially the “European Social Charter Employment Management” signed between BNP PARIBAS and UNI Finance in 2012). According to a recent research by Eurofound (2011), even though the global financial crisis as of 2007 onwards has badly affected the banking sector, with job cuts reported from virtually all EU Member States, no major impacts on the national (perhaps with the exception of Ireland) or supranational industrial relations systems have been observed. This buttresses the assumption of relatively robust industrial relations structures in most countries. However, the adaptation of those IR systems has been increasingly important for the sector.

The target sector of EUROSOFIN is the financial sector with a focus on banks. This sector is extremely important in Europe and for the covered countries in terms of GDP share and employment. In the EU, the sector employs around 4.2 million employees. Major challenges are the changing legislative framework as a result of the global financial crisis and the Eurozone crisis, increased banking supervision, the image of the industry, skills needs, and the demographic change. The target groups of EUROSOFIN are social partners with trade unions and employers’ organization at EU level and from the participating countries. The sector social partners at EU level in the banking sector are UNI Europe Finance (employees) and the European Banking Federation, the European Savings Banks Group, and the European Association of Co-operative Banks (EACB).

There is a clear objective underlying the choice of the finance centres under analysis: a significant transnational character, the internationalisation of the labour force, a continuing process of modernization, outside pressures to the finance system and their respective industrial relations models, and the requirement to remain competitive as well as innovative through the creation of new products. With a new EU member state (Romania) to be part of EUROSOFIN, the project aims to reinforce the transnational relations and challenges in the sector between new and old EU Member States in the finance sector.

In Luxembourg, where the financial sector is the first employer, support and expertise is provided by Luxembourg’s social partners from the sector: the employers’ union ABBL (Association des Banques et Banquiers Luxembourg), the independent ALEBA (Association Luxembourgoise des Employés de Banques et Assurances) trade union and the sector federation within the two largest national confederations OGB-L (Onofhängege Gewerkschaftsbond Lëtzebuerg) and LCGB (Lëtzebuerger Chreschlesche Gewerkschaftsbond), the Syndicat Banques et Assurances (SBA) and the Syndicat des Employés du Secteur Financier (SESF). In Luxembourg, despite that the sector is still generating jobs, it also faces serious challenges, including anticipating labour force shortages and skills in the context of volatile markets, international shocks, and the restructuring of global value chains. Intricate international and European rule-based frameworks for managing transnational financial products have been perceived as enhancing and adapting training requirements. Social partners in Luxembourg are also contributing to the government’s FIT4job initiatives in the banking sector.

In the UK, most large banks, building societies and insurance companies negotiate directly at company level with one or more trade unions or staff associations, although the extent to which this facilitates real social dialogue or just complies with legal minima varies considerably. The two industry-wide bodies that exist are the trade organisations, the British Bankers’ Association (BBA), the much smaller Building Societies Association (BSA). Unite the Union (Finance and Legal section) claim about 170 000 members, followed by other, smaller unions.

In France, in link with some national reforms regarding employment and skills planning and lifelong learning, one may notice social dialogue outputs at both sector (social dialogue takes place on a regular basis within the French banking sector) and company levels. In addition, some French major groups in the financial sector are now involved in a transnational social dialogue about anticipation of changes (see especially the “European Social Charter Employment Management” signed between BNP PARIBAS and UNI Finance in 2012).

The Austrian banking sector has been in the news recently with its bank secrecy arrangements that are similar to Luxemburg. However, the overall picture is more varied: foreign deposits have been overtaken by the considerably expanding activities of Austrian banks in Central and Eastern Europe during and after these countries’ accession to the EU. There is some evidence that this internationalization of markets (and also of banks themselves) is followed by a relocation of back-office and IT activities to these countries.

Romania is represented by the union FSAB which is a relatively young federation founded in 2002. The federation has 14 affiliated trade unions, 350 shop stewards, and 16000 members all over the country. The Romanian social partners have faced recently a dramatic change of the social legislation (new Labour Code, new Social Dialogue law), imposed in May 2011. The major problem in the sector is restructuring. In the banking and insurance industry, 7600 dismissals were registered over the period of the financial and economic crisis and 10000 dismissals are estimated for the next two years. There is no employers’ union in the sector. At company level, there are no discussions and practices of social plans and the main social compensation are the severance payments.

 
 
 
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