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[Newsmaker] Citibank Korea union may strike

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Published : 2014-05-01 20:29
Updated : 2014-05-01 20:48

Employees enter a Citigroup Inc. building in Seoul. (The Korea Herald)
The labor-management dispute at Citibank Korea appears to be deepening.

The union has now voted for a strike to protest the bank’s restructuring plans that would inevitably include layoffs.

The walkout would mark the first in three years for local banks, since the union of Standard Chartered Bank Korea went on strike in 2011. It seems to be an indication that the situation has reached breaking point.

The last strike at Citibank Korea was in 2004 when the U.S.-based citibank took over KorAm bank.

Citibank seemed to be aware of the workers’ distress, but appeared firm on its stance that people would have to go in order to streamline.

In early April, Citibank Korea said it would reduce its number of branches nationwide by 30 percent through closings and integration. Its decision came amid worsening profitability and growing calls for cuts in the payroll.

According to bank spokespeople, the number of operating branches in Korea will be slashed from 190 to 134 by the end of the year.

In a statement, the bank said its footprint in the country will be concentrated in six major cities including Seoul, with a focus on high-quality client segments and an enhanced digital experience, consistent with its global consumer strategy.

The announcement, led by management, fueled speculations that the U.S.-based Citigroup is mulling over shuttering the overall money-losing retail service in Korea.

However, the lender dismissed the possibility of pulling its retail services out of the local market, noting the country is its third-largest retail franchise in the world, and one of its most important markets globally.

The decision came amid speculations that banks would shed more jobs and slash costs due to increasing concerns of deteriorating growth in the country’s financial industry.

More than two-thirds of the 3,200-member workforce took part in the recent voting, which saw 91 percent opting to go on strike.

As the union said it would be holding last-ditch negotiations on Friday, the leader warned that he would be forced to phase in the walkout should the talks collapse.

The first phase will involve several steps including the rejection of English language use during working hours, suspending work involving internal documents and halting sales promotions.

After six months of this, the workers would refuse to attract new customers for phase two.

The second-to-last phase would entail a partial strike, with the final phase being an all-out general strike.

The union argues that the coming branch integration will be linked to layoffs of about 600 workers.

In 2012, the bank shed 199 workers through a voluntary redundancy program, and it plans to cut more jobs this year through another retirement scheme.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)

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