Ola Saint Jherico (trade unionist with Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI))
19 May 2008
When Prof. Charles Soludo rammed down the pill of N25billion recapitalization on the throats of Nigerian banking sector operators in 2005, most stakeholders believed that the industry would soon become the engine room and driving force of the nation’s seemingly forlorn search for industrial take-off, but this hope was to become a huge mirage.
The reforms of the banking sector was essentially touted to be aimed at consolidating the capital base of the banks, protection of the interests of depositors and positioning of Nigerian banks for the challenges of global investment opportunities. At the end of the exercise, 25 banks scaled the hurdles of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) induced recapitalization initiatives in 2005 but since then, most of the banks have on their own approached the capital market in the now familiar mad rush to attain mega-bank status. Over 75% of the banks operating in the industry today have a capital base in the region of a hundred billion Naira, yet, the nation’s investment portfolio in the real sector, manufacture, agriculture and infrastructural development continues to nose-dive.
The inability of this banking sector reforms’ initiative, i.e., enormous capital base to significantly impact on the productive and industrial base of the nation’s economy was the cogent reason that the country had no other option than to throw away the plans of Soludo’s CBN to re-denominate, re-decimate the Naira and bring it at par with the USA dollar in October last year, which was an attempt by Charles Chukwuma Soludo to once again hoodwink Nigeria with brain wave concept without material root.
Since 2005 banking sector consolidation exercise, the favourite pastime of banks in the country have been financial speculation and unwholesome dealings in stocks and foreign currencies, while the nation’s economy is turned into a wide expanse for dumping sub-standard goods and questionable merchandising financed by the same banks that would rather not finance small scale enterprises and other productive sector of the economy. Besides the fact that the national economy is not concretely benefiting from the stupendous billions in the vaults of these banks, the biggest casualty of the reforms remains workers in the industry and their unions.
HOSTILE LABOUR PRACTICES:
Workers in the banking sector are subjected to a litany of mixed blessings, while the erroneous general perception and banks managements’ claim is that the banking sector employees have better conditions of employment than their counterparts in other sector, the realities however, is that their statutorily guaranteed rights are ceaselessly violated by their employers, more-so, since after the consolidation exercise.
The reforms was characterized by certain features as it is embedded in fundamental principles that are antithetical to both the short and long term interests of the sector working people. In the process of re-capitalising, some of the 25 successful banks acquired a number of not too solvent banks while a few others merged. Most of the banks that emerged have an orientation that perceived trade union as un-necessary clog in their operations, thus, they took conscious steps to deny their employees the rights to join and belong to a union. In situation, where a bank acquires or merges with another that has tradition of organized workers union, the first step these banks took was to liquidate the union structures as was the case in Access Bank, Diamond Bank, Intercontinental Bank Equitorial Trust Bank and Fidelity Bank. Then, under the guise of ‘integration and re-integration’, thousands of workers were arbitrarily, unilaterally and summarily retrenched especially those employees that are either sympathetic to participation in workers union or, its officials. Equally, in other not to fulfil various responsibilities to their employees, these banks out-sourced (contracted out) certain cadres of staff, most of the junior employees under service conditions that are befitting to 18th century slave camps.
Curiously however, the regulations of the CBN and several gentlemen agreements by stakeholders made it mandatory for banks to respect all workers rights and obligations during the consolidation exercise, yet, these were violated with impunity. This was possible because the under-pining philosophy for the reforms was private profiteering greed, and deference to neo-liberal economy of market forces, that is by nature anti-labour, exploitative and profit- maximizing.
FINANCIAL SECTOR UNIONS’ WINDOWS OF DIALOQUE REJECTED BY BANKS
These unwholesome labour practices received the nocks of the industry main regulatory parastatal, yet, the managements of these banks refused to stop trampling on the rights of their staff. On both March 2, 2004, and March 14, 2006 the Ministry of Labour led by the Minister, Dr. Hassan Lawal, brokered stakeholders meetings between management of these banks, representatives of Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) and National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) , where it was abundantly made clear that it is statutorily mandatory for banks to recognize ASSBIFI and NUBIFIE and allow their employees to join them as appropriate. Yet, these banks remained vehemently opposed to having a union in their companies.
The financial sector unions (both ASSBIFI and NUBIFIE) are however, very matured and scientific in their approach to organize their members in the industry. Recognising the strategic position of the sector to the national economy and security, the unions opened several channels of communications via requests for dialogues and correspondences, but these were spurned by these banks. In order not to un-necessarily disrupt banking services in the country because of its importance to the nation’s ailing economy and, in conformity with the country’s extant labour laws, the unions assert that the principle of universal application of the check-off system at the point of entry into the union is the best approach to avert untoward industrial hassles in the process of unionizing the banks. Out of the twenty four banks that are currently operating in the sector, thirteen (13) have already embraced workers union in their firms while eleven are prevaricating and hostile.
In one of the most notoriously anti-labour banks, Fidelity Trust Bank, even the independent organization of workers into a union by NUBIFIE was resisted with victimization of members and non-cooperation. As at today, the situation is such that since all logic of persuasion and reasoning by the unions have been resisted with force by these few banks, it is inevitable that the unions have to change tactics to adopt a countervailing workers power to vanquish the nasty, brutal corporate force of the managements of banks that have refused to allow workers union.
ASSBIFI and NUBIFIE must mobilize the entire labour movement to picket the branches of these banks. The eleven anti-labour banks are FCMB, Access, Diamond, Standard Chattered, Guaranty Trust, Fidelity, Equatorial Trust, Nigeria International Bank Limited, Spring Bank, IBTC-Stanbic and Intercontinental Bank.
Unionising these banks is imperative to serve as vibrant watchdog for the sector. More-importantly when it is appreciated that corporate hawks at the helms of affairs of these banks would not flinch a second before they plunge the country into the kind of sub-prime crisis that the USA is presently battling with, and scandals as we have observed in Aron, Societe Generale etc, of course, this is not far from Nigeria as can be seen in the management/ board caused scandal rocking Cadbury Nigeria Plc and Wema Bank.
Most of the banks that have been opposing workers union, despite statutory provisions, have also been found engaging in the sordid act of turning their staff to corporate prostitutes, task master conditions of employment, unlawful retrenchment, insecurity of jobs and non-payment of appropriate terminal benefits. As they shirk away from their statutory, industrial responsibilities, so do they also violate other legal social responsibilities especially on money laundering and fraud.