World Trade

Australia’s No.3 bank seals union deal, letting staff work from the comfort of home

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The National Australia Bank (NAB), ranked third in the country, has struck a groundbreaking deal that empowers its employees to work remotely, making it one of the world’s first private-sector institutions to offer legal protection for remote work, according to a union announcement on Friday.

As part of a comprehensive agreement guaranteeing pay hikes for 80% of its 32,000-strong workforce, NAB has committed to “supporting and encouraging work-from-home arrangements.” The Finance Sector Union (FSU) revealed that limitations have been placed on the employer’s grounds for refusal when it comes to such requests.

This landmark deal is a turning point in the global standoff between companies and their staff since executives began calling for an end to remote work setups that were initially put in place due to COVID-19. This week, even the Australian federal body responsible for determining public sector wages acceded to a union’s request for unrestricted work-from-home days.

However, the private sector has largely struggled to address this pressure point. Notably, an employee class action lawsuit against (NASDAQ:AMZN) seeking reimbursement for work-from-home-related expenses failed after the company mandated a return to the office.

Major Australian companies, including NAB and its larger rival, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), have enforced minimum office attendance requirements. Nevertheless, the office vacancy rates in the country’s capital cities remain around one-sixth, significantly higher than pre-pandemic levels, underscoring deep-seated resistance.

The FSU asserted that this agreement represents a victory for thousands of bank workers and will exert pressure on other major Australian banks to meet the new standards set by NAB.

In response, a NAB spokesperson stated that the deal aligns with the bank’s guidelines since 2021, requiring employees to spend at least two or three days a week in the office. The spokesperson emphasized that “colleagues have the option to apply for flexible working arrangements” as stipulated by the country’s workplace laws.

Just two days after the FSU filed a complaint against the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA)—the country’s largest bank with 49,000 employees—with the industrial regulator over a directive to return to the office at least 50% of the time starting this month, this agreement was reached.

The union argued in its complaint to the Fair Work Commission that CBA’s directive would force employees to spend more on commuting and childcare, as well as lose two to three hours each day in travel time.

Responding to the complaint, a CBA spokesperson affirmed the bank’s respect for its existing union agreement and matters that require consultation.

“Flexible working options remain available, as they always have, and we’ll continue to consider personalized arrangements for our people,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, the second-ranked bank, Westpac, and the FSU are currently in negotiations for a new enterprise agreement that also addresses the question of allowing remote work, the union disclosed. (This story has been refiled to correct syntax and add a dropped word in paragraph 10)

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