Banks yesterday got a marching order from the Federal Government to pull the brakes on the retrenchment of workers or face sanctions.
Minister of Labour and Employment Chris Ngige said the government will no longer tolerate banks flouting its directive not to sack workers.
As reports of sack of workers by banks hit town last week Ngige urged them to roll back the action. But some banks went ahead to lay off workers.
Speaking in Geneva, Switzerland where he attended an International Labour Congress (ILO) meeting, Dr. Ngige said no worker should be treated like a slave in his own country and thrown out of job by employers of labour without following the due process.
The Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) had said the power to hire and fire does not rest with the government, but Ngige said if the banks failed to comply with the directive to maintain the status quo, the government knowing what to do. He added: “Afterall, the banks have licences that are issued by the government.”
The minister said apart from the banks, telecommunication companies were breaching the labour laws by denying their workers the opportunity to unionise.
The minister said banks laying off workers were not following the due process and that the government had evidence that they failed to comply with the principle of collective bargaining.
He vowed to protect workers, saying: “We want them to maintain the status quo because they are not the only ones suffering the economic downturn in the country. But everything must be done with a human face. As far as I’m Minister of Labour, I will protect Nigerian workers.”
In a statement he released before his trip, Ngige also said: “NECA as representatives of organised private sector is protecting the interest of their members. They are one leg of the tripod and nothing stops them from having their own opinion. They are the section that protects the private investors. They are also employers, but the people I am talking to are also employers. The bank chairmen, managing directors and boards and I also talk to unions.
“In that particular government order, I ask the unions also not to picket the banks because they had mobilised to do that. It is the job of government to ensure a peaceful milieu on both sides and that is why I gave the directive.
“From our investigation and from preliminary reports available to us, the banks, insurance companies and other financial institutions are all laying off workers.
“Any bank worker you remove from work has about 10 family members to take care of and we will not allow them to put them into the pool of the unemployed. It must be negotiated. We did that in the oil industry and we succeeded.
“In the oil industry, there is collective agreement continuously. Even if you want to lay off workers, there is a procedure for declaring redundancy. You must follow the process. Section 20 of the labour says it.
“You must call the unions and discuss with them. You don’t just wake up and treat them as if they are slaves in their own country, throw them into the unemployment market and expect government to keep quiet. We will know what to do if they continue like that. After all, the banks have licences given by government.”
At least three banks have laid off close to 1.500 employees in the last one week. Some other banks are believed to be warming up.
Those that have sacked employees are Skye bank (175), Diamond Bank (200) and Ecobank 1(040).