Source: Communications Union
Calls for certainty over working arrangements for the coming months have been answered at Santander as the UK continues to grapple with local lockdowns and concern over future course of the coronavirus pandemic.
With two of the Bank’s largest UK bases, Bootle on Merseyside and Carlton Park in Leicester, both in locations that have been disproportionately affected by regional Covid-19 outbreaks - and colleagues in the national branch network dealing with the additional risk factors associated with routine contact with the public - feedback to the CWU from members has sought clarity over Santander’s approach to staffing over the winter months.
Last week, following detailed discussions with the company, the near-term staffing question was directly addressed in a welcome ‘update on working arrangements’ issued to all employees by Santander UK Chief HR Officer Enrique Alvarez.
Specifically citing the involvement of the CWU and Advance in the development of the Bank’s approach, Mr Alvarez confirmed that “in most cases, working arrangements for non-Branch roles will remain as they are until at least the end of January 2021,” with all colleagues currently working from home continuing to so wherever possible.
Stressing that Santander’s executive team is currently “reflecting” on employee feedback to a major staff survey last month which indicated“a strong desire that the ability to work more flexibly should continue,” Mr Alvarez promised to share “more detail on our planned response later in October.”
And, responding to concerns that have previously been raised by the CWU over the welfare of individuals who are finding homeworking a struggle for either logistical or psychological reasons, Mr Alvarez continued : “While we know from your survey feedback that, for many, the decision for working arrangements to remain as they are until at least the end of January 2021 will be welcome, we do recognise that, for some, homeworking brings challenges.”
Revealing that Santander is “working on several initiatives to provide additional support and help colleagues work more effectively remotely,” Mr Alvarez added that the company will do all it can to “support a limited number of colleagues with very challenging homeworking situation with the opportunity to work from the office on pre-agreed days”.
Turning to the different issues affecting those working in the retail banking network, Mr Alvarez continued: “For those of you working in branches, we do not expect any immediate changes to opening hours but will update you well in advance should changes be necessary.”
Stressing that the bank has “ample supplies of PPE” for customer facing staff, Mr Alvarez insisted: “Where there are cases of local lockdowns, we will ensure that you are fully engaged and supported on what this means for you and your branch. We will monitor and review our branch operations carefully, taking actions as necessary to ensure everybody stays safe.”
Welcoming the statement on all fronts, CWU national officer for Santander, Sally Bridge, said: “This is good news as it ends the uncertainty about what the near future holds for those who are currently working from home - while simultaneously acknowledging the point that the CWU has been making from the outset that homeworking simply doesn’t suit everyone.
“Despite concerns flagged up by some members at the start of the national lockdown over delays in the provision of laptops and other equipment required for the wholesale move to homeworking that was, by necessity, implemented at great speed in the spring, these issues were satisfactorily resolved following the intervention of the union.
“Santander has made huge efforts to take its staff unions with it on every single step of the journey - and where problems have arisen they have nearly always been as a result of the misapplication or misunderstanding of the company’s national policy positions by relatively junior local managers.”
CWU Telecoms & Financial Services Executive member, and chair of the union’s Santander National Team, Debbie Cort, agrees, stressing that all such instances raised by the union have been swiftly and satisfactorily resolved.
“Right from the outset the Bank has worked very hard to do the right thing by employees and wider society - and this has included the early decision to institute the company’s very own coronavirus job retention scheme,” she points out. “As such Santander has never drawn from the Government-funded furlough scheme and there has never been any question over individuals being paid their full salary, regardless of the circumstances, if they were unable to work when we were in full lockdown.”
Referring to Santander’s pledge that it is looking closely at the whole issue of flexible working going forward, Debbie continues: “We very much welcome this, because well before Covid-19 the CWU was actively making the case towards more homeworking in certain situations.
“Now homeworking has demonstrably proven to not just be possible, but actually extremely effective in a far wider-ranging situation than we’d ever previously envisaged, it clearly makes sense to revisit the hitherto mostly informal approach to such requests that inevitably resulted in inconsistencies across Divisions.
“Equally importantly, however, we need to remember that homeworking doesn’t suit everyone, so the CWU is also looking forward to hearing more on the company’s thinking with regards to the possibility of additional flexibility for those who are finding working from home a struggle and would like to spend at least some time in the office.
“With additional detail now having been promised later in the month it’s important those timescales are met because now people believe there may be a possibility of them splitting their time between home and the office they are understandably keen to know more about what those arrangements are likely to be.”
Debbie concludes: “The CWU will also be looking forward to hearing in more detail as to how the Bank can further enhance support employees in branches, because the sad truth is that we’re seeing more and more instances of customers behaving inappropriately towards staff members who are trying to help them. We aware that there are plans in place and we are meeting with the bank later this month to help shape these.
“Some people have short fuses at the moment due to perhaps financial difficulties due to the pandemic and unfortunately across the country we now seem to be seeing an increase in customers being verbally or even physically abusive - often to do with being asked to queue properly, wear face masks or to behave in a Covid-safe manner.
“We appreciate, of course, that there are no easy answers to this and many other challenges thrown up by Covid -19 but that makes the strong and positive relationship the CWU enjoys with Santander even more important.”