Story: Blessing Ehidiamen and Eric Elezuo
The retrenchment of workers have become a new trend in the banking sector in Nigeria as these past few months, the banking industry have adopted the motion to reduce its staff. The low oil prices, uncertainty in foreign exchange and not to forget the dwindling economy in the country have been given as excuses for the action. Consequently, these problems are telling on the banking sector, and necessitated the drastic reactions adopted, which invariably has drawn the irk of the Federal Government.
Reports have it that quite a number of bank are beginning to cut down the number of their employees.
“If you have a company and money is not coming in, how do you expect to pay your workers? The best option is to politely sack them instead of denying them their salaries,” said a staff of First bank who pleaded anonymity.
Recent media report said that some banks rated high by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have been hit by the current economic crisis leading to the reduction of their work force. Unfortunately, employees are the once suffering these major casualties in the retrenchment exercise as many have been forced into the labour market.
A staff at the United Bank for Africa in Ikeja told the Boss that it is always the best for anyone to have a backup plan, and not put all his eggs in one basket. This is because one can never tell when the unexpected will happen.
“Life is uncertain; you can’t expect to remain in one place forever. If you don’t move on, you will be forced to move by people, and nobody wants to be caught off guard. One therefore, needs to have a backup plan and not put all his eggs in one basket,” he said.
Some of the banks that have been said to have fired some of their workers in just the second quarter of 2016 include Ecobank, which has sacked more than 1040 employees both on full time and contract basis. The management of the bank confirmed the mass sack through a statement released by its Managing Director, Charles Kie. The statement reads: “The bank, in its renewed drive for optimal performance, has in addition realigned certain roles bank wide to ensure improved efficiency. This necessitates the exits of some staff, who were adequately compensated. It furthered stated that “we understand that people are our key assets; so, we have emphasized the need to reward our best performers, continue to re-invigorate our people, while also opening up new opportunities for talented and committed people to join us as permanent employees.
“At the same time, based on our repositioning plan, we had to disengage some staff, while ensuring that, in line with industry standards, they are treated fairly”.
Diamond bank was also said to have fired 200 of its workers which was in line with its strategic plan to drive shareholders’ value. It added that only staff whose competency falls below par were eased out.
In a statement released by the bank’s management on the issue, the bank stated that “in the bank’s last appraisal, only 200 staff whose performance scorecards were adjudged to be lower than the minimum required to drive its strategic growth plan for the business year were relieved, with the opportunity to seek employment in other organizations where their respective skills set and individual performances could be enhanced and optimized.”
Meanwhile, FBN Holdings, the parent company of First bank of Nigeria Limited, had recently said it would cut down the number of its employees by 1000.
The bank blamed this development on the slowdown in the economy which has fueled a high non-performing loan rate in the banking system causing banks to record sharp decline in their profits for the 2015 financial year and the first quarter of 2016.
It was also learnt that the inflation of prices of goods and tremendous increase of dollar have led people to collect loans from their various banks without refunds.
According to a social analyst, Mrs. Bukky Olumide, “if the banking industry had seen this coming, surely they would have been prepared for it. But now it is rather too late and the only option they could turn to is to cut down their workers. Nigerians are concerned about the employees themselves. The worst agony is waking up one morning, get set for work and got to work only for one to find out that he or she has been sacked.”
This problem, she added, is not just in the banking sector alone, stressing that people should not query them, citing the unfriendly economy.
“Consequently, it is a general problem and should be tackled by the Federal Government first before any development could be made,” she said.
With the development still unfolding, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, gave the financial houses a marching order, stating that it must cease the retrenchment exercise, recall those that have been laid off or have their licenses withdrawn.
Dr. Ngige said his office had received several complaints from those affected by the development, adding that ‘any action taken in that regard would be seen illegal’. He further proposed a meeting for July 2 to iron out issues.
But be that as it may be, the banks are not looking back, and has continued the massive lay off of staff, the Federal Government’s directive notwithstanding. Skye bank Plc fired 175 staff on that note, and explained that they were sacked for failing the 2015 appraisal exercise.
Organizations are trying to avert bankruptcy without putting into consideration the fate of the sacked workers while the Federal Government are clamouring for a stop in retrenchment without putting into consideration how the banks are surviving prompting the question: What is the way forward?
Ada is a sacked staff of one of the first generations banks. She told The Boss that the sack, though very painful, did not come to her as a surprise because the rumours of a sack has been in the air long ago, and everybody in the bank has braced up for it. She added however, that she was compensated, and hoped to find the next step with the severance money.
“There is no one who gets sacked that would not complained, or get shocked. However, I was somehow ready for it because of the crisis in the economy that has lingered for long. More so, the rumours of the impending sack have been on for a while, and when it came, it was just like an anti-climax,” she said.
On his part, Adeniran, a high ranking former bank staff, who also got the boot, has been full of lamentation, asking no one in particular how he will survive. He told the Boss that his children are schooling abroad, and without a job, it will be difficult to sustain his life style.
However, a financial expert, who believes the banks are doing the right thing, said it is irrational for the Federal Government to decide how the banks manage their resources at a trying period like this, asking if they would provide the fund to take care of them.
“The Federal Government’s directive was in good faith, but things don’t work that way. They should meet the banks and know what their financial strength is before issuing a directive that appears draconian. The act is irrational and not considerate of banks at all,” he said.
At a joint briefing in Geneva, however, leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), pledged their support for the government, insisting that they would picket banks that indulge in further mass sack of their employees, saying that the Federal Government was right to have threatened erring banks with withdrawal of their licenses if they failed to halt the gale of mass retrenchment of workers.
Speaking at a briefing at the venue of the ongoing 105th International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland, both labour unions contended that just like the banks disobeyed the laws of the country and retrenched workers “we will picket them to show them that they do not have monopoly of law of disobedience.”
Both Ayuba Wabba of the NLC, and the TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama, who frowned at the refusal of the banks to allow their workers to unionised, according to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), said the pronouncement of Ngige was expected, arguing that it was not the responsibility of the Senate Committee on Banking to invite the minister and others for a meeting since the issue fell within industrial relations. The labour unions consequently gave a 21 day ultimatum for the banks to comply or be picketed.
And even as banks, after a recently held bankers’ meeting, agreed to shelve the planned mass sack, it is still not total as the sacked are not recalled, and the statement said ‘for now’.
It is now a do or die affair for both the FG and the banks. Time will tell who blinks first.