NatWest Bank has intensified its efforts to shed IT staff as it braces itself for a takeover by the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).
The bank is inviting IT workers at its 2,000-strong NatWest Technology Services to apply for voluntary redundancy.
More than 350 IT staff from the division are expected to leave the organisation by 2001 - equivalent to 17% of the workforce - under the scheme. But unions fear that compulsory redundancies will follow.
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IT plays a central role in plans by RBS to cut costs and shed 18,000 jobs from the merged group. RBS claims it can save £350m a year by rationalising back office processing, telephone technology, and adopting a single IT platform.
"If Royal Bank's plans are realisable, the implications [for IT jobs] are going to be immense. We must be talking about hundreds of people," said Robin Haggett, assistant general secretary of banking union, Unifi.
Morale among IT staff is at an all-time low following a spate of restructuring exercises and five months of takeover uncertainty, he said.
The latest job cuts follow IT redundancies at NatWest's private banking arm Coutts. The group told staff in December that it was seeking to cut 10% of Coutts 260-strong IT team.
NatWest opened a voluntary register for IT staff in Technology Services in January before it became clear that the RBS bid would be successful, as part of its defence strategy against the bid.
Staff will have until the end of the month to register their interest. But NatWest has reserved the right to refuse voluntary redundancy to IT staff with skills that are critical to the business.