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Banks averse to social dialogue, says NIRA

By Victor Ahiuma-Young
SINCE the commencement of the Mallam Lamido Sanusi led Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN reforms in the banking industry in August last year, the sector has been in the eye of the storm for among others, industrial crisis as employees until recently, were being retrenched without due process.

But for the ministry of Labour and Productivity intervention, the sector would have been shut down by aggrieved organised labour in the sector. Concerned  about  this development,  members of Nigeria Industrial Relations Association, NIRA, bankers, labour leaders in the financial sector among other stakeholders, met in Lagos to examine “Industrial Relations in the Banking Industry”  and observed that the sector lacks social dialogue.

For NIRA, the decline of standard employment relationships and the emergence of new employment arrangements have proceeded at an alarming pace in the banking sector for sometime now and the changes have brought out a paradigm shift in employment and labour relations from re-distributive considerations to strict market-mediated processes; from a ‘language of rights’ to a ‘language of flexibility’. The consequence is the growth of non standard employment relations, including part time work, contract jobs and temporary employment.

L-R Mr Sunday Olusoji Salako, 1st National Deputy President (ASSBIFI); Prof Sola Fajana secretary-Treasurer (NIRA) and Mr Wale Oyerinde, NECA Representative at a round table discussion on Industrial Relations in the banking sector weekend in Lagos. Photo:Nwankpa Chijioke.

Essentially, participants examined  issues of recapitalization to 25 billion naira minimum and consequent mergers;  420 billion naira bailout of 5 banks; sack of 5-8 MDs leading to liquidity squeeze;  CBN expunges 2% loan loss provision;  CBN directs mandatory use of licensed credit bureau; proposed Asset Management Company;  evidence of globalization of services in universal banking; the fact that first generation banks are now 60 years old and banking is still at its infancy;  rapid expansion in branch banking;  ATM services;  internet banking;  cash credits of all sorts including prime lending for assets acquisition and reduced queue time in service line.

As stated in  a communique issued at the end of the one day round table discussion, participants zeroed the meeting on the issues of Employment, Wages, Hours of work, Focus of recruitment, Training, Employer conflict orientation, Employer union orientation, Social dialogue, Core business strategies and Diversification of business activities.

Observations

The communique said discussants observed amongothers that “banks have not been able to take advantage of the booming housing construction market. Banks have poor debt management skills

Banks have not explored global prime debt markets – housing equity, securitized debt, credit cards, housing mortgage, prime lending, foreign assets portfolio management, etc Banks have not explored opportunities in wholesale banking with huge markets in re-insurance, pension fund management, commodity trading, collaterised debts, etc. The activities of the new generation banks are major obstacles to unionization.

In those banks,  newly recruited staff  were  forced to sign a written agreement not to join trade union.. Instead of addressing the issues of workers welfare, such as hours of work, holidays, pay, etc, the unions appeared to be more interested in the check-off dues. The rational for retrenchment exercise in the banking sector as well as the reason behind outsourcing and contract employment are questionable.

Crisis in the banking sector is a self-inflicting one because the concepts of professionalism and objectivity have changed drastically in the sector, especially in the area of recruitment and service. Employers in the banking sector capitalized on the high rate of unemployment and the over-saturated labour market in Nigeria to maltreat labour.”

“Appointments and Promotions in the sector is no longer based on work performance and merits but rather on deposits, which is usually done callously and also promote high labour mobility in the system. Banks normally punish the relationship officer for the failure of debts repayment by the bank debtor.

The inability of bankers to stand up for their rights and justice due to lack of awareness and orientation on the rights of workers in the banking sector, is also endangering many employees in the sector. Recapitalization introduced by Professor Charles Soludo brought about aggressive movement in the banking system and eventually put management on their toe. Social dialogue has not been given the rightful place in the banking sector. There are several Insurance Companies and Micro-finance Banks that are not unionized and they exploit labour. Restrictions on women not to married or become pregnant as well as the unwholesome trend of female prostitution in the banking sector.”  were discussed.

Way forward

After an exhaustive deliberation, participant resolved that “unions and management must work together. Unions should provide interactive sessions with their members. Disciplinary procedures should be put into consideration when employment issues come up. Issues of professionalism should also be addressed in the banking system. Fair hearing which should include thorough investigation on any given matter. In addition, professionalism should be encouraged.

Drastic measure should be taken to reduce the trends of various unfair labour practices, which should include seeking redress in court. Employers in the sector should avoid unwholesome practices and operate within the context of the law.

Banking industry must look beyond retail banking and veer into lucrative investment banking market and prime debt financing, including an active participation in the vast emerging housing market and collaterised debt. Unions need to identify their mistakes and wrong doings. Employment should be based on merits. Manuals must be
made operational. Labor mobility of bankers should be minimized. Deposit should not be the basis for reward and promotions.”

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