Big bank, union clash over remote work

Employees up in arms about bank's return-to-office mandate

Big bank, union clash over remote work

Employees at Commonwealth Bank are up in arms over the company's return-to-office policy, calling for its immediate withdrawal.

The policy, announced by Head of Human Resources Sian Lewis in May, mandates that the bank's workforce of over 48,000 employees be present in the office for at least half of their working time each month starting from July 17, according to a report by The Australian.

According to the Finance Sector Union (FSU), hundreds of workers at Australia's largest bank have reached out to union representatives to voice their dissatisfaction with the policy. The FSU criticised the bank for implementing the policy without consulting the staff or the union.

“It is totally unacceptable that CBA delivers an edict to its staff altering work from home arrangements without any consultation,” FSU national secretary Julia Angrisano told The Australian. “For some CBA staff, their teams are not local so they are being made to go to an office to engage in video meetings with other workers interstate or overseas, or working from home that day.

“The pandemic showed how well working from home can be achieved and the FSU believes that a new benchmark on remote work has now been set,” Angrisano said.

In response to the outcry, a spokesperson for Commonwealth Bank said that the bank's approach to hybrid working aims to strike a balance between its commitment to flexible work and delivering the best outcomes for customers. Commonwealth Bank is the only one among the four major banks in Australia to have implemented a group-wide mandate with a monthly quota. Smaller banks have adopted less rigid guidelines, still requiring staff to spend at least half of their time in the office.

Read next: Branch closures reaching “crisis proportions” – FSU

During a strategy briefing in May, CEO Matt Comyn revealed that only about 45% of employees had returned to their office desks, according to The Australian. Comyn defended the mandate as a means of providing clarity to employees, especially after some leaders struggled with communicating the expectations. He maintained that flexibility remained central to the bank's approach.

Nevertheless, Angrisano raised concerns about the potential impact of the new policy on employees' finances, work-life balance, mental health, and caregiving responsibilities.

“They complain about the financial impact of increased commuting costs and childcare costs. Some say they will now be seeking employment elsewhere,” she told The Australian. “We want the CBA to suspend the mandate and engage in proper consultation to jointly develop a working from home policy, which should then be enshrined in the CBA Enterprise Agreement.”

The bank's spokesperson said that extensive surveys involving tens of thousands of staff had been conducted since March last year, focusing on topics such as wellbeing, hybrid working, and preferred work arrangements. They also said that the bank had provided a two-month notice period to support employees in adjusting their current working patterns.

The FSU said that Lewis had “failed to show up” at a meeting to “to have the edict overturned.”

“She left it to HR staff to explain to upset CBA workers why the bank was placing limits on its Work From Home policy,” the union told The Australian.

CBA’s return-to-work mandate isn’t the only thing the FSU has spoken out against recently. Last month, the union slammed the bank for slashing more than 200 jobs.

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