Finance workers vote for merged super-union

Three UK trade unions in the financial services sector are to merge in May 1999. The move follows a ballot of their members in which over 90% of those voting supported the merger proposal.

A new "super-union" is to be created to represent workers in the UK's financial services sector as a result of a merger between three existing unions - the Banking, Insurance and Finance Union (BIFU), the NatWest Staff Association (NWSA) and UNiFI, which represents staff in Barclays bank. It was announced on 22 March 1999 that the members of the three unions had endorsed the proposal for a merger in a ballot with over 90% of those who voted favouring the creation of the new union which, like its three constituent organisations, will be affiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC). The holding of a ballot on proposed trade union mergers is a legal requirement under UK law.

The resulting "super-union" - to be called UNIFI, a slightly modified version of the name of one of the existing unions - will formally come into being on 18 May and will have a membership of some 193,000. The new union's aim is to unite all staff in the financial services sector in one specialist union. The Lloyds TSB Group Union will be one of the first company-based organisations targeted by the new union in its attempt to end divided employee representation in the sector. UNIFI has also indicated that it expects to use the statutory trade union recognition provisions contained in the current Employment Relations Bill (UK9903189F) to extend its coverage within the financial services sector. Winning recognition under the new legislation on behalf of HSBC/Midland management-level staff, who had union recognition withdrawn from them three years ago, is one of UNIFI's early objectives.

Union leaders say that the new union is a response to a decade of turbulent industrial relations within the financial services sector, with branch closures, job losses and pressure on pay and conditions and staffing levels. Rory Murphy, one of UNIFI's joint general secretaries, said that the introduction of the euro single currency would add to the challenges facing finance workers arising from technological developments, increased competition and deregulation. The sector has also until recently been characterised by persistent inter-union rivalry. Ed Sweeney, another of UNIFI's joint general secretaries, said that the ballot result "is a clear message to the finance industry that staff need, and want, one voice".

TUC general secretary John Monks welcomed the announcement of the ballot result. On 17 March, the TUC, for which a key role has always been the regulation of inter-union relations, announced that it would be developing proposals for reforming trade union structure in the UK. The aim is "fewer unions, organised more logically". There are also to be new TUC procedures to minimise inter-union competition in seeking new recognition agreements via the statutory trade union recognition provisions of the Employment Relations Bill.

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