ANZ has become the latest big Australian company to send more jobs overseas, replacing 70 call-centre jobs with positions in New Zealand as part of attempts to bolster profit through cost-cutting.
In another case of "offshoring" by a big bank, ANZ last week told staff it would shift the jobs from its Dorcas Street office in Melbourne to New Zealand, where it is bulking up its 175-strong staff who respond to Australian customers' queries.
The bank said it did not anticipate redundancies as part of the plan, as it thought natural staff attrition would drive the reduction. But the finance union doubted this and said offshoring in the past had inevitably led to layoffs.
The move to shrink domestic staff numbers underlines the fragile state of the labour market and comes after Ford last week announced 1200 job cuts and collapsed cleaning contractor Swan Services terminated its entire staff of nearly 2500.
Telstra is also poised to make substantial reductions to its 30,000-strong domestic workforce as part of a restructure.
An ANZ spokesman confirmed the plan to move 70 jobs overseas, but said Australia would remain the main location for call centres that handled queries from domestic customers.
"ANZ advised staff in its Australian call centre last week that 70 roles will be transitioned to our call centre in New Zealand," the spokesman said.
"We do not anticipate the change will involve any redundancies as staff impacts will be managed over time through natural staff turnover."
According to bank sources, the cuts are part of a plan to replace up to 500 call-centre positions with jobs in New Zealand over the next few years through natural attrition.
The ANZ spokesman said the bank had no specific plans to bulk up the New Zealand presence beyond the 70 positions announced to staff last week, but it would consider moves to lift efficiency.
"We do not have any specific plans at present for further expansion of our call-centre capability in New Zealand. However, we will continue to look at options to provide the best possible service to our customers in the most efficient way," the spokesman said.
With ANZ posting a record $3.18 billion profit in the latest half, the plan to reduce staff sparked union claims the bank was treating staff as an "expendable commodity" in its drive to rein in costs.
Finance Sector Union national secretary Leon Carter said he did not believe the bank when it said it did not expect layoffs.
"We've never seen any offshoring of operations or processes that did not involve redundancies," he said. "We are fed up with Australian finance workers in ANZ being treated as some sort of expendable commodity in the bank just so people can get a bonus."
ANZ cut its full-time staff by 820 in the six months to March. In February, it cut 70 positions from its wealth division and replaced the staff with workers in India, a move that mostly affected back-office positions in Sydney.
Almost 2000 finance jobs had been sent overseas so far this year, Mr Carter said, and about 5000 had been sent offshore over the past five years.
Meanwhile, QBE is cutting its global workforce by 700 as it expands staff numbers in the Philippines, a move affecting Australian staff most.