ABUJA (Labour Ministry’ Report)- The Federal Government recently took a major step towards the resolution of the lingering retrenchment and other major labour issues in the banking and financial institutions with a crucial meeting with the sector’s organized labour unions (ASBIFFE & NUBUIFE) declaring that “ banks and their employees must be ready to operate within the provisions of the Nigerian laws.”
According to the statement released to the Press by the Ministry’s Public Relations Unit recently, the meeting was the first of the three-stage meetings with the sector’s stakeholders. The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige (Sen), while declaring the meeting open said, “Our journey towards the resolution of the industrial disputes in the banking and financial sector begins in earnest. You may recall the series of petitions from the organized unions in banks and financial institutions, and individuals complaining of unfair labour practices which include illegal termination of appointments, forced resignations, unpaid exit emoluments and entitlements, non remittance of union check-off dues, prolonged casualization, contract staffing and redundancy”.
Sen. Ngige gave a short history of the disputes in the sector which compelled him to intervene and declare status quo ante-bellum on May 30, 2016, directing banks to reverse all termination of the previous four months while the unions were restrained from picketing the banks, pending the outcome of negotiations. He observed that the misinterpretation of this directive led to an invitation by the Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions, which agreed that the ministerial directives were proper, and legally guided after his appearance with the banks and the unions and commended his approach to the matter.
The Minister therefore reassured that his intervention was to resolve the disputes in the overall interest of all Nigerians. He expressed displeasure with the skewed observance of the laws of the land by the financial institutions and warned that the provisions of the Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) cannot be the only law banks will comply with, to the exclusion of the laws of the country.
According to the Minister, “Banks are not only to obey the Banks and Financial Institutions Act; they must also obey the all encompassing laws of Nigeria, especially the labour laws because the banks cannot function without human beings. So, both the banks, that’s the owners and the unions, the umbrella for the workers must conform to the laws of the land that guide employer/employee relationship.”
He said the Federal Government was conscious of the nation’s steep economic indices, hence, the emphasis on saving the jobs where government was constrained to create new ones.
“The economy is technically in recession. It is therefore imperative for us as government to use various mechanisms to keep the existing jobs as we have done in the oil sector where cuts in perks and allowances especially at the upper level were deployed. We expect same in your sector,” he said.
The Minister further assured that government was not on a witch-hunt but was also prepared to ensure that all parties to the dispute obey the laws of the land, insisting that where retrenchment was inevitable at the end of negotiations, due process of law, however, must be followed.
In his response, the National President of Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFE) Comrade Sunday Salako commended the Minister for his forthrightness and dogged determination to defend the rights of all Nigerians irrespective of class. “ This is the first time, a Minister of Labour in this country, at least in recent time, will for once come out to say that the bourgeoisie that are taking we the workers for a ride in this country cannot do that again with impunity. That statement alone is a firm new direction,” Salako said. He listed unilateral declaration of redundancy, casualization, and non-remittance of check-up dues as the peak of the unfair labour practices in the sector and expressed the commitment of the union to complement the efforts of the government to tackle the problems.
Similarly, the National President of the National Union of Banks , Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees( NUBIFIE) Comrade Danjuma Musa decried the flagrant abuse of labour laws by the bank employers listing Guarantee Trust Bank, Fidelity, Standard Chartered, Stanbic IBTC as well as Daimond as topping the list of defaulting banks . He told the Minister that since his intervention, the management of the banks have resorted to hiding under the principle of “Appraisal” to give poor evaluation to workers they want to sack.