Staff at Hong Kong's third-largest bank - Standard Chartered - are being counselled to prepare them for the possibility of being sacked as part of the bank's restructuring. All Standard Chartered's 5,100 staff in Hong Kong and 500 in Taiwan are attending anti-stress workshops where they are being told how to prepare for the worst. While there is no suggestion of mass lay-offs yet, management has not ruled this out. Unions have slammed the counselling, claiming it is likely to cause more stress and anxiety. The scheme, which started in September, is contracted to Wilson Banwell and Associate Asia Ltd, with Canadian-registered psychologist Dr Timothy Leung Tin-ming leading the counselling services. Staff are being told how to cope with 'possible changes' in their career. Staff with specific forms of distress can receive individual counselling. Some staff fear it could be a prelude to mass lay-offs. A spokeswoman for Standard Chartered would only say: 'Different companies have different human resources policies. We will not confirm or comment on it.' Dr Leung said it was a 'well-intended' exercise to minimise the psychological impact of restructuring on staff. Citing last week's sacking of 858 staff by PCCW, he said: 'When being laid off, people who do not have psychological preparation will tend to feel pain and hurt. It will be followed by feelings of guilt and, finally, helplessness. 'As the economy has been thriving in the past, this is a process many will be unfamiliar with.' The workshops helped workers be 'resilient' and thus shorten the recovery time and allow them to move on with their lives. The counselling is also designed to calm staff who keep their jobs and help improve the company's efficiency. Last year Standard Chartered Bank laid off 300 workers in the SAR. Last August, speaking as chairman of Hong Kong Banking Association, the bank's chief executive, Peter Wong Tung-shun, warned of gloomy prospects for the sector in the face of the sluggish economy. Like other major banks, Standard Chartered is restructuring through relocation of operations to the mainland and in response to widespread automation. More than 1,000 bank workers have lost their jobs in the past two years. In March last year, Hong Kong's largest bank, HSBC, moved part of its operations to Guangzhou, leading to the loss of 280 jobs. The Bank of China, the second largest bank, sacked 400 in September in the wake of its merger with its 10 Hong Kong-based sister banks. Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, who is general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said of the counselling: 'Instead of wasting time and money, they should stop the problem at the root by not laying off workers. Stability will be in one's mind if there's no threat of lay-offs.' But Dr Leung denied his presence would add to the pressure on staff. 'The feedback indicates they like the assistance. We have no idea whatsoever who will be laid off and who will be staying,' he said. 'Restructuring is inevitable. It's not an issue that our presence will cause or add to that pressure. The problem is already there.'