Australia No.3 bank reaches union deal that lets staff work from home

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) – National Australia Bank (NAB), the country’s No.3 lender, reached a deal that lets employees work from home, a union representing staff said on Friday, one of the first in the world to give legal protection for remote work.

As part of a broader deal that guarantees pay rises for 80% of the bank’s 32,000 staff, NAB must show “support of and encouragement of working from home arrangements” with limitations on the grounds for the employer to refuse a request, according to the Finance Sector Union (FSU).

It did not specify whether the agreement allowed working from home full-time.

The deal breaks new ground in a global standoff between private sector companies and their staff since employers started calling an end to home-working arrangements that were precipitated by COVID-19.

Some of Australia’s biggest companies, including NAB’s larger rival Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), have set minimum office attendance requirements but the country’s capital city office vacancies remain around one-sixth, far higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The FSU said in a statement the agreement was a win for thousands of bank workers, adding it would pressure other large Australian banks to match the new benchmark set by NAB.

NAB was not immediately available for comment.

The deal comes after the FSU took CBA, the country’s biggest bank which has 49,000 staff, to the industrial regulator this week over a directive to return to the office 50% of the time.

In its complaint to the Fair Work Commission, the union said CBA’s return-to-office directive would force staff to spend more money on commuting and child care and lose two to three hours a day travelling to and from work.

CBA did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In the U.S., employees of retail giant failed in a class action lawsuit against the company that requested it reimburse expenses related to working from home after it ordered a return to the office.

In Australia, the federal government agency that sets public sector wages agreed this week to a union request for uncapped days spent working from home.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Jamie Freed)