Bank Retrenchment: I Know My Rights as Labour Minister, Ngige Tells Critics

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Against the backdrop of the severe criticisms against the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, over his interference in the running of the banking sector and warning the banks to suspend the sack of their workforce, the minister weekend said he clearly and constitutionally knows his rights, insisting that the directive to the banks was in order.

The minister has continued to face criticisms over his call on banks to reinstate their sacked workers or face the wrath of the federal government.

The National Employers Consultative Association (NECA) had accused Ngige of ‘partisanship, populist and unprofessionalism,’ alluding that his comments ordering the banks on what to do with regards to retrenchment was not far from a display of autocratic tendencies.

But in his appearance before the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance in Abuja at the weekend, Ngige took a swipe at his opponents, contending that his directive to the banks falls within the purview of the constitution, adding that there was nothing wrong with it.

The minister said: “I know my rights as Minister of Labourand Employment and I will exercise those rights for the benefits of Nigerians, high and low. It is within my powers to declare a truce in any industrial crisis. That was why I asked the banks, ‘don’t retrench further’ and the unions, ‘don’t picket the banks’ so we can sit down to resolve the issues. The labour law on redundancy says in article 20 that if you negotiate redundancy and a party is dissatisfied, the minister has the right to intervene.

“The law makes provision for the employer to disengage a worker if he cannot actually run his enterprise efficiently and effectively with a big load of staff in which case, he will declare redundancy but it states clearly the process for doing this.

“It says you must engage the labour unions in that industry and if it gets out of hand, the local unions will report to their national union. If they can’t resolve this, the parties, unions or the banks will refer it to the Minister of Labour for conciliation.”

Ngige cited petitions from the unions in the financial sector which border on unwholesome practices, including what he called ‘mindless retrenchment’ as the immediate reason for his intervention, directing all the parties; the bank employers and the unions to maintain the status quo ante-bellum through a statement on June 5, 2016, pending the resolution of the disputes.

“We intervened in the spirit of collective bargaining. We got petitions from NUBIFE on casualisation, contract staffing, poor remunerations which is not in conformity with equal work, equal pay in our constitution, ill human conditions of service, rampant termination without due compensation and resistant to unionisation contrary to section 40 of the constitution.

“We investigated these and found them true in some banks. We invited the concerned banks; they gave excuses on why they won’t honour the invitation while they continued with retrenchments,” Ngige told the Senate Committee     He also dispelled the insinuations that the federal government was obstructing and interfering in the running of private businesses given the recent clamp and shut down of big businesses across the country.

“We are not interfering in their business. They are there to make money and protect their investments and nobody is against this. But don’t forget that individual Nigerians are also investors in these banks. So they are not the only investors.

“I have my own shares in these banks and they pay me dividends, which I am pleased with. However, I will not be party to drawing dividends on the blood of helpless Nigerians. The banks can save some of these low cadre jobs by re-adjusting the heavy perks at its top management cadre. We pleaded same with the major oil companies and it worked.”

Speaking on unionisation in the banks, Ngige observed that the only institution in the financial sector where staff members are exempted from unionisation is the Central Bank and that no other bank in the country had the right to prevent its staff from forming a union.

He said all the steps he had so far taken on the issue were in defence of the constitution and the labour laws as well as to safeguard the interests of all parties while ensuring peaceful industrial milieu for enhanced productivity in the sector. “Unionisation according to the constitution and labour laws is the right of workers. There are exemptions and the institutions that are exempted are clearly listed. Here, it is only Central Bank that is exempted in the banking sector.

“And the law says again that the Minister of Labour in his wisdom can grant a waiver to any institution. I have not granted waver to any bank and I will not grant such,” Ngige maintained.

“The constitution is the supreme law of the land. The constitution is aware that we are in a society where all of us will not be equal and that everybody must be protected – big and small. That is why in sections 14, 15 and 16 and even 17, it protects the employer, the economy and the workers.

“It is from these provisions that the National Assembly enacted the labour laws to guide all of us on how to deal with the issues of employment. So, all that my ministry has done is to execute and protect these laws from infractions. I acted in good faith to protect the interest of all.”

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance, Rafiu Ibrahim on his part argued that the controversy was more of misrepresentation other than the threat to the banks over the issue of retrenchment

“I am happy with the explanation of the minister on the issue of bank licenses that he did not threaten that the federal government would withdraw their licenses; that it was a case of misrepresentation. That gives a conducive atmosphere for all the social partners to freely dialogue and peacefully resolve all issues,” Ibrahim stated.