Senator Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, has explained the rationale for Federal Government’s recent directive to some commercial banks to halt the gale of retrenchment in the sector.
He said the directive was based on damming petitions against the commercial banks from the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFE).
According to Ngige,despite some observed shortcomings in the Treasury Single Account(TSA) policy of the government, many of the banks fell short of required standards on labour issues bothering on casualization, contract staffing, poor remunerations which were not in conformity with equal work, equal pay in the Nigerian constitution.
Ngige said after scrutiny of NUBIFE’s petition against the banks, many of them were found culpable of ill human conditions of service, rampant termination without due compensation and resistant to unionization contrary to section 40 of the constitution.
The Labour Minister recently came under harsh criticism from Nigerians, as he was alleged to have threatened to withdraw the operational license of some of the concerned banks, if they failed to heed to government’s directive to halt workers retrenchment.
Ngige who appeared before the Senate Committee on Banking and Finance, Chaired by Sen. Rafiu Ibrahim at a public hearing on emerging issues in the financial sector over the weekend, said the concerned banks had earlier been invited to clear their names of allegations leveled against them, but they reneged.
“I know my rights as Minister of Labour and Employment and I will exercise those rights for the benefits of Nigerians, high and low.
“It is within my power 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.
“There were petitions from the unions in the financial sector which border on unwholesome practices, the height of which was mindless retrenchment as the immediate reason for my intervention.
“I directed all the parties; the bank employers and the unions to maintain the statuesque ante-bellum through a press release on June 5, 2016, pending the resolution of the disputes.
“We intervened in the spirit of collective bargaining. We got petitions from NUBIFE on casualization, 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 unionization 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.
While a dialogue involving all stakeholders would commence by first week of July,2016,the Minister explained that all steps he has so far taken on the issue were in defence of the constitution and the labour laws.
Referring to the constitutional provisions,Ngige said, “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.”
“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.”
He also debunked the impression that the Federal Government was interfering in the running of private businesses.
His words, “We are not interfering in their business. They are there to make money and protect their investments and nobody is against this.
“But do not 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.”