Watching over employee rights

The interests of the thousands of people working for ABN AMRO in the Netherlands are watched over closely by the bank’s Employee Council. The Council’s Chairman Margot van Kempen does not shrink from bringing matters to the Board’s attention, for example if the right to privacy is prejudiced.

Everyone is entitled to decent working conditions and just remuneration. At ABN AMRO, one of the entities watching over these rights in the Netherlands is the Employee Council – what used to be the Central Works Council. “Our purpose is to bridge the gap between workers and the bank’s management,” explains Van Kempen. The Council does this by submitting opinions on the overall issues affecting the bank’s people. “This includes the Executive Committee’s decisions about what strategy the bank will pursue. We hold surveys to find out what our employees find important, and why they take pride in their jobs. In doing so, we found that employees would like the bank to play a bigger role in society. Not for commercial reasons, but because they are intrinsically motivated. We then bring this information to the table when discussing the bank’s ‘purpose’ with the Executive Committee.” 

Trinity

Van Kempen and her fellow members of the Council consult closely with management. “This is a vital part of ensuring that employees’ interests are factored into management’s decisions at an early stage.” The use of the term Raad van Medewerkers –  the Council’s Dutch name – is no coincidence, and emphasises its role as part of the trinity made up of the Executive Committee, the Supervisory Board and the Employee Council (Raad van Bestuur, Raad van Commissarissen, Raad van Medewerkers). “The Council needs to have this position,” Van Kempen stresses. “It allows for close consultation within the normally quite strict hierarchy in the banking business.” The Council also tries to influence pay negotiations, which were traditionally the domain of the bank and trade unions. These days, union membership is shrinking among the bank’s employees. And while it is their own choice not to become a member, it means that there tends to be very little support for the outcome of these negotiations. “Since we represent employees in the Netherlands and know what they find important, we try to pass on what we know to all parties concerned.” The Council uses various instruments to gather this information, such as a survey held this year about the bank’s performance assessment system. “Negotiations about pay and employment conditions may become tripartite talks in the future,” Van Kempen goes on to say, “with the Employee Council as one of the parties at the table. Other organisations in the Netherlands are already doing just that, but our bank is not ready for this yet.”

Safeguarding privacy

In practice, Van Kempen has noticed that seemingly minor changes within the bank have the potential to undermine employees’ rights – the right to privacy, for example. “We believe that the extensive online activity monitoring is a risk to our people’s privacy,” she explains. “The bank is required by law, for example, to monitor interactions between its employees and clients. Having said that, more and more is being monitored these days that has nothing to do with client transactions – simply because it’s possible.” Van Kempen is keeping a close tab on these developments. “If we don’t watch out, we’ll end up in a Big Brother is Watching You environment. And this creates an atmosphere that is far removed from an inspiring work environment based on integrity.”

Blogs

It is important for the Employee Council to know what concerns the bank’s people have. This makes it easier to identify possible threats to employees’ interests. The Council members are in frequent communication with employees at the bank’s various divisions and its online presence has proved a particularly effective tool for finding out their concerns. The blogs that Van Kempen writes about topical matters get people talking, she has noticed. The one in which she wondered whether the bank would be able to treat its employees in a more ‘circular’ fashion, triggered many reactions. “Reorganisations create a bad vibe in the workplace, and make people feel less secure,” says Van Kempen. “We believe that employees have the right to expect that management has a long-term vision for the next five years instead of introducing ad hoc changes every year. This would enable employees to work towards enhancing their long-term employability and better understand what the benefits of change are. Ultimately this is better for all the bank’s stakeholders: its clients, its investors, society and its employees.”

Wijnand van Hoeven - Head of Human Resources, ABN AMRO Greater China

"In Hong Kong, ABN AMRO employs a patchwork of nationalities. To attract and retain talent and create a great work environment ABN AMRO Hong Kong is truly committed to being an equal opportunities employer. We believe that each employee, no matter what their gender, ethnic background, age, sexual preference or disability, should have access to equal benefits. However, this is not always the case for all employees in Hong Kong.

And so despite market practice in Hong Kong, ABN AMRO this year insisted on offering a Medicare plan that offers all employees cover for their domestic partners. This is in line with the bank’s global LGBT statement and its commitment to a safe and secure environment for LGBT employees. In addition, we removed exclusions on congenital diseases and HIV to protect every employee’s right to Medicare without stigmas."