Thousands of frontline bank workers are being offered top-up payments for putting their shoulders to the wheel as the sector seeks to maintain services during the coronavirus crisis.
Permanent TSB has offered to pay a customer support allowance of €50 a day from this week to the end of May to about 700 of mainly lower paid branch and call centre staff – equivalent to almost 30 per cent of its workforce.
Bank of Ireland has committed to paying €300 a month to employees who have to travel to a branch, call centre or other location up until the end of June, while AIB has offered a one-off voucher of €250 to all non-management employees of the bank. However, it is understood there is some disquiet at the bank because contract workers in the company are not included in the arrangement.
"Every worker in the banks is being challenged by this crisis, but staff who have to go in to offices and serve the public, in particular, are more at risk than others," said Gareth Murphy, head of industrial relations at the Financial Services Union (FSU).
“We have done a lot to get employers to protect the safety of members but risks remain. So, we are talking to and encouraging all employers to provide frontline workers with allowances to recognise this and many are now doing this. It’s important that this is done in an equitable and fair way.”
The Republic’s banks agreed on March 18th to offer up to three-month payment breaks to mortgage, personal and business borrowers affected by Covid-19.
The banks were fielding as many as 7,000 calls a day last week from business customers seeking payment holidays or modifications to their loans, while there has also been a spike in companies making loan applications to tide them over.
The volume of calls reflects the level of distress among households and businesses as tens of thousands have lost their jobs amid the closure of pubs, restaurants, cafes, creches and other businesses due to the Government rules on social distancing to contain the spread of Covid-19.
Mortgage payment breaks
By the end of last week, 28,000 mortgage payment breaks had either been processed or were in the middle of being processed, according to Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI). Lenders have been reallocating up to half their staff in some cases, updating websites and introducing new online facilities to manage the huge volumes of applications and queries they have been receiving, according to the lobby group.
Bank of Ireland moved last week to temporarily close 101 of its smaller branches, or almost 40 per cent of its locations, and redirected staff to help larger offices and contact centres cope with a surge in queries from customers. Ulster Bank has closed 10 advice centres in Dublin and Cork.
A spokesman for AIB said the €250 voucher being given to staff was a “recognition award” as staff have had to deal with “a hugely increased workload” as they deal with a surge in customer inquiries as a result of Covid-19.
A spokesman for Bank of Ireland said the bank’s €300-a-month Covid-19 allowance for frontline staff acknowledged the “disruption and additional costs” faced by staff at this time.