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Fear Looms As Banks Move To Contain Rising Operating Costs

As banks strive to curb rising operational expenses, there are fears of job loss in the financial sector.

Diesel prices increased by nearly 230 percent in the first quarter of this year, from N225 to over N750. The impact on company operations has led several banks to implement new survival strategies, such as reducing office hours.

Official banking hours, which used to be from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., currently vary per organization and branch. For example, First Bank and GTBank were among the first to reduce their operating hours.

Firstbank announced on its official website on April 10 that it has changed its operating opening and closing hours, effective Monday, April 11.

Although, the bank did not adduce any reason for the action, it was gathered that the rising cost of diesel and difficult operating environment were part of the reasons.

According to the bank: “We have revised our banking hours across all our locations. The revised opening and closing hours will be effective from Monday, April 11, 2022.” The bank said that while some of its branches will maintain the status quo, other branches will function between the hours of 8:00 am and 3:00 pm, 8:00 am and 2:00 pm, 8:00 am and 1:00 pm and 10:00 am and 3:00 pm accordingly.

Similarly, GTBank reduced its operating closing hours from 5:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. over alleged incessant increase in diesel pump price.     

The bank advised customers to consider digital banking options for any transactions beyond its new operating hours.

The Guardian gathered that other deposit money banks are strategizing on how to cushion the effects of the harsh operating environment.

The strategies range from rationalization, reduction in pay to closing down some branches regarded as ‘loss centres,’ as well as banning or outsourcing the operations of dispatch riders, for those that have not done so.

These developments are coming in the wake of the incessant national grid collapses that leave the country in darkness, forcing organizations to heavily rely on diesel for their operations.

Implementing the strategies, The Guardian gathered, would increase the already high rate of unemployment in the country.

When The Guardian sought the views of labour leaders in the sector, President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Oyinkan Olasanoye, who confirmed the development, said the union was already in discussions with the banks’ managements. 

She said the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has given the banks the go ahead if they wish to sack but they must get approval before embarking on the move.

However, she said the union wants due process to be followed. According to her, there is a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for affected members.

She said in the banking sector, about 60 per cent of workers are contract staff. She said the CBA does not cover the contract or outsourced staff as they are not members of the union.

President of the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), Anthony Abakpa, who claimed not to be aware of any sack, said the union is not going to seat back and watch, as it was ready to confront the issues headlong.

He said workers are not the cause of increase in fuel or diesel and should not be used as measures for mass retrenchment.

However, if there would be a sack, he said there are processes and procedures that must be followed.

“Outsourced staff are entitled to have freedom to have a choice of belonging to the labour union of their choice. Though outsourced workers have no job security, they may not be hired and fired by banks without the prior knowledge of the outsourcing agencies. They are entitled to other entitlements like full staff but there is a limit to those entitlements. And their conditions of work depend on the outsourcing agencies. The fight against outsourcing may take a long time to fight and win because of the directive from CBN and because the outsourcing agents have license and they are supposed to operate within the guidelines given to them by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment,” he said.

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On what their salary structure is, he said it differs in banks as most of them grow through career paths, assessments and promotions.  

For some, the least paid is between N50,000 and N80,000, while it is thrice the amount for a regular employee.

Abakpa, who bemoaned outsourcing practice, said it was a way of holding on to people’s destiny, where they will not get any terminal benefit at the end of the day unlike regular workers.

“We are not relenting, we are still pushing to the National Assembly to look at the issue critically. We have met with them and we are still following up. We met with labour too, where we have the joint negotiation committee in place and once that scales through, every individual will smile in our sector,” he said.

An expert in financial dealings, Thomas Olawale, said banks might be retrenching because they needed more digitally-savvy employees, due to the current state of things now.

He said with the creation of new roles, the competition for experts is increasing on the online and digital space.

He said the high cost of diesel may not trigger a sack since it will be a short-term shock (the Russia-Ukraine war) but the need for experts since banks are now totally venturing into the online and digital space.

Already, with the current review of the nation’s labour law, the organized labour has demanded a regulation and manual to regularize ‘non-permanent’ staff of banks.   

President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, who said this in Lagos recently, lamented the many unfriendly labour practices in the banking sector, some of which, he said, predated the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
He said the congress and the leadership of NUBIFIE had beckoned on the CBN, the labour and employment ministry and the Bankers’ Committee, seeking practical solutions to the dysfunctions in the system. 

Citing some instances, he said the last CBA in the banking sub-sector was done in 2005. He said: “The CBA was due for review in 2007. Our affiliates in the banking sector wrote to the CBN on the need to review the current CBA. Banks were also written to address the issues of CBA and ‘non-permanent’ staff in their payroll. Sadly, up till date, nothing concrete has come out of those engagements. 

He said the two committees on CBA and outsourced staff, chaired by the Minister of Labour and Employment and the Permanent Secretary respectively, have met a couple of times, expecting that the conclusion of the assignment of the two committees and the release of their reports to the public should be expedited.  

“Our expectation is that the report of these two committees should establish follow-up actions on CBN’s earlier directive to banks to shelve further sack of their staff and downward restructuring of wages through surveillance and stiff sanctions against erring banks; constitution of a Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) for immediate review of the CBA in the banking sector and demand on the CBN to issue a circular to all banks to desist from designating their employees as ‘non-permanent’ staff,” he said.

The Guardian

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