Mass sacking in banks averted as CBN wades in

Mass sacking in banks averted as CBN wades in
Chris Ngige

No bank worker, whether permanent or temporary, will be sacked due to the economic slump occasioned by the current coronavirus pandemic, it was learnt yesterday.

The assurance came from the Central Bank of Nigeria |(CBN) and the Bankers ‘ Committee after their meeting. This came amid earlier warning by the Federal Government to employers against sacking workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Committee’s decision followed a “Special Meeting,” held on Saturday, which was taken to “help minimise and mitigate the negative impact of the COVID19 pandemic on families and livelihoods.”

Specifically, the Bankers’ Committee, an umbrella body of CBN officials and managing directors of deposit money banks (DMBs), had warned that “no bank in Nigeria shall retrench or lay-off any staff of any cadre (including full-time and part-time).”

The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, had on May Day, said: “Employers will not be encouraged to disengage staff without prerequisite social dialogue and clearance from the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.”

Recall that amid speculations of mass sack in the banking industry, and others sectors in the economy, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), had on Thursday, urged the Federal Government to protect workers from “some uncharitable employers,” who planned to make workers victims of COVID-19.

Consequently, the Federal Government had warned employers against sacking workers during the lockdown without prerequisite social dialogue and clearance from the Ministry of Labour and Employment.

In agreement with the government, the Committee also stated: “The express approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria shall be required in the event that it becomes absolutely necessary to lay-off any such staff.”

In a statement yesterday, the CBN and the Bankers Committee said its decision came after a “further review of the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Nigerian banking industry.”

It added that this is even as the Committee is not unmindful of “the issue of the operating costs of banks in view of the disruptions emanating from the global economic difficulties,” while the CBN solicits “the support of all in our collective effort to weather through the economic challenges occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Committee’s decision comes amid controversies over the alleged decision to close over 300 branches of Access Bank nationwide by the management via video conferencing in a town hall meeting with the staff.

It’s Managing Director/Chief Executive, Herbert Wigwe, was quoted to have said the decision, which will involve mass retrenchment, was in a bid to reduce operating costs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which could affect about 75 per cent of the staff, most of whom are outsourced and are offering “non-essential services.”

But this was vehemently denied by the bank’s spokesperson, Abdul Imoyo, who noted that the branches had already been closed from the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown. He said: “This is not correct. Branches were closed at the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown. As the structure of the lockdown has been relaxed, the branches will be reopened in a phased approach, and with adherence to physical distancing guidelines.

“We advised the public when we closed over 540 branches (60 left to operate) in response to our business continuity plan for a crisis of this nature. This was further buttressed by Lagos State and subsequently the Federal Government’s stay at home or work from home order.”

Reacting on the Bankers’ Committee’s directive, Professor of Finance and Capital Markets at the Nasarawa State University, Keffi, and former Commissioner for Finance Imo State, Uche Uwaleke, described this as a welcome development.He told The Guardian: “The decision is a welcome development in order not to create hardships for workers in that sector considering that government’s COVID-19 mitigation measures are geared towards protecting jobs.

“In any case, the agreement was reached with the Bankers Committee. So, I expect that the CBN and the CEOs of banks must have worked out ways to cushion the rising costs of bank operations and liquidity challenges occasioned by the pandemic.

“In addition to the forbearance package already extended to Deposit Money Banks by the apex Bank, I want to bet that the CBN’s MPC will reduce the Cash Reserve Ratio from the current 27.5 per cent when the members meet later this month.”

Meanwhile, the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), had earlier disclosed of plans to write to the banks tomorrow on the issue of possible lay-offs, which has now been overtaken by the Committee’s warning.

A former ASSBIFI President, Oyinkan Olasanoye, had told The Guardian that while the union envisaged possible branch closures and salary cuts, it would however resist any lay-off without negotiations.

She said: “We will write them officially on Monday on the news making the rounds. We are still making our investigations.“We have discussed with the Minister of Labour and NECA. We know there would be job losses but due process must be followed. If they are closing their branches and transferring them to other branches, we have no problem with that, but if they are shutting down their branches and asking the workers to go, we will not accept that.

“COVID-19 is nobody’s fault. You can’t just close now and tell people to go home. I know that it will have implications but it shouldn’t be immediate.”

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