FG: Banks, Companies Must Not Lay off Workers Despite Economic Downturn

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Paul Obi in Abuja

The federal government wednesday said despite the economic downturn, banks, other financial institutions and multinational must keep existing jobs and desist from sacking their workers.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, stated this yesterday at a parley with the National President of Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFE) and the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) in Abuja.

According to Ngige, to prevent further crisis, “We 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 organised labour unions, ASBIFFE and NUBUIFE,” declaring that banks and their employees must be ready to operate within the provisions of the Nigerian laws.

“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.

“It was the first of the three-stage meetings with the sector’s stakeholders. Today, 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 casualisation, contract staffing and redundancy.”
The minister 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.

Ngige maintained 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 further promised 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.

“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,” Ngige said.

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.

He stated 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, then, due process of law must be followed.

ASSBIFE President, 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 stated.

He also listed unilateral declaration of redundancy, casualisation 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.

In the same token, NUBIFIE National President, Danjuma Musa, decried the flagrant abuse of labour laws by the bank employers, listing Guaranty Trust Bank, Fidelity, Standard Chartered, Stanbic IBTC as well as Diamond Bank as topping the list of defaulting banks. He told the minister that since his intervention, the management of the banks had resorted to hiding under the principle of “Appraisal” to give poor evaluation to workers they want to sack.