In March 2020, Spanish bank, Santander, together with Banco Itaú and Bradesco, made a commitment with UNI Global Union affiliate, Contraf-CUT, to maintain jobs and avoid layoffs in Brazil during the coronavirus health crisis. It was one of the most important demands and achievements of the trade union movement during the pandemic.
However, on 10 June, Santander not only became the first bank to make redundancies, but also called for the resumption of branch activities in a country where the contagion curve continues to rise.
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Santander has already dismissed 160 workers, which it says is due to the impact of the economic crisis on banks – even though the Federal Government of Brazil has supported financial institutions with more than R$1 trillion (US$169.5 billion) in liquidity. The bank recently reported a gain of R$3.85 billion (US$ 652.6 million) in the first three months of 2020, representing a growth of 10.5% compared to the same period in 2019 and 3.4% with the fourth quarter. Santander’s profitability in Brazil reached 22.3%, and 29% of its global earnings in the first quarter came from Brazil.
Santander Brasil announced it intends to cut 20 per cent of its workforce in the country – equalling more than 9,000 employees. One worker, who has been laid off as part of the plans, explained:
“The dismissal was done by telephone. I think that with more than 20 years of service at Santander I deserved a little consideration from them, especially because of my health situation. I was part of the risk group that Santander said it was protecting. The truth is they don’t protect anyone because when they have to fire someone, they don’t hesitate.”
Marcio Monzane, regional secretary of UNI Americas, declared: “To fire workers in the midst of a global pandemic, of which Brazil is the new epicenter, is to practice inhumane management. If under normal conditions it is already difficult to find a new job, imagine what it will be like for workers in the current situation. If Santander isn’t firing workers in the other countries where it operates, we want the same treatment in Brazil. We demand that the negotiations and agreements signed with workers’ representatives are respected.”
Rita Berlofa, World President of UNI Finance, said:
“Santander’s position in Brazil is unacceptable. At a time when we are facing a very serious political, financial and health crisis, in which workers would like to feel protected, what we see is a disregard from those responsible for the exorbitant profits and the stratospheric bonuses of the executives. Dismissals affect society as a whole and contribute to the worsening of the crisis. In addition to not complying with a no-fire agreement during the pandemic, Santander has also taken the opportunity to attack social security rights, push for sales objectives, and even threaten those who do not comply with the job cuts. We don’t see this treatment in the other countries where the bank is present. We want more social dialogue, respect for agreements, workers and Brazilian society.”
Santander has also demanded compliance with their sales objectives and threatened dismissal if they are not met.
Angelo Di Cristo, Head of UNI Finance, said:
“Santander is showing an unbearable lack of respect by breaking its commitment to safeguard jobs during the coronavirus crisis. We urge the bank to keep its promise and stop using the pandemic as excuse to dismiss workers.”
UNI americas sent a letter to the Vice President of Santander in Brazil, rejecting these measures as well as a public statement from the bank’s President saying home office workers should reduce their wages.