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SC First sets out on early retirement

Lay-off may be extended to non-executive posts as bank struggles with extended strike

Standard Chartered First Bank Korea began speeding up its manpower restructuring, as unionized workers’ long-running walkout failed to garner wide support from the public.

This week, the bank launched one-on-one talks with a group of executive-level employees, who applied for a voluntary retirement scheme which was conducted over the past two weeks.

“Its action of the early retirement program for executives, executive directors and deputy CEOs shows the management’s strong resolution not to bend to the union’s tackle,” a source close to the bank said Friday.

Starting Thursday, SC First Bank has been confirming applicants who expressed their willingness to resign via e-mail, he said.

“Deadline for the application was Friday,” he said. “Internal staffers predict the number of applicants will reach about 20 out of about the 90 executive-level staff.”

Under the guidance of its U.K. headquarters, the Korea unit plans to set the list of retirees this weekend.

The applicants, who confirmed their intentions to resign at face-to-face talks with the personnel department, are likely to leave the office within a month, sources said.

There has been speculation that the voluntary retirement for executives will be a starting-post for the bank’s full-fledged manpower restructuring in the coming months.

At present, sources said, it is uncertain whether the voluntary retirement process will be extended to non-executive level employees.

But they said most employees are alert to the scenario that the number of executive-level applicants for the retirement may surpass the initial expectation of 20.

“Some forecast about 40 of the 90 executives will ultimately quit due to their responsibility for failing to curb labor dispute,” a source said. “Under the scenario that their seniors leave en masse, anxiety among junior employees will certainly be quite serious.”

The union, which has been protesting a new performance-based wage system since June, has also demanded the management scrap the early retirement program.

Market observers say the strike has apparently lost momentum, as the bank’s branches recently yielded steady profits despite the absence of the unionized workers.

The management, aside from the retirement scheme, is considering adopting a new promotion system, to conduct personnel transfers more frequently.

Standard Chartered First Bank Korea is poised to drop the “First” from its name, to become Standard Chartered Bank Korea by the end of this year.

Bank spokespeople said the change will come as it “aims to utilize Standard Chartered’s corporate image” and generate “synergy by coinciding with the bank’s name with the group’s global brand.”

By Kim Yon-se (