Mr Nurudeen Apena, was one of the recently disengaged core staff of Ecobank Nigeria.
He spoke to Uche Nnamani on some of the issues that led to the mass sack and efforts to get the bank to pay balance of affected ex-employees severance package.
What brought obout the mass sack at Ecobank
First, let me make some clarifications here. I was not among the 1900 staff disengaged in July mass sack. Those disengaged in July were junior staff contracted by third party and belonging to NUBIFIE.
Actually, the bank reserves the right to disengage staff because it is part of the terms of engagement in any structured employment contract. That either party may terminate the contract, but with a cost to the initiator! At the same time, if it was to be done by the employer, it must be carried out in line with precedents, the labour laws and the relevant agreements with the labour union.
It should also be noted that the junior staff that were disengaged in July are agitating for what was due to them. I was surprised to hear from a TV station’s news flash that those guys were protesting because the bank refused to renew their contract agreement.
I immediately sent them a mail to remove that information because it was misleading. A reputable TV station for that matter! Do we say they were bias or did not do proper coverage on the incident? I was happy that they quickly removed it. I couldn’t just imagine someone who worked tirelessly and meritoriously for a bank for as long as 17 years could only be given exit allowance of less than a million Naira. It is extremely ridiculous!
Unfortunately this was not the case before the new management came on board. Disengaged contract staff before this management came on board were adequately taken care of.
Ecobank said it did not sack any of its staff but only decided not to renew the contract of 3rd party agents
I consider that statement as unfortunate! First, those of us who were disengaged on May 17, 2019 were all core staff of the bank. Then for those disengaged in July whether recruited by the bank or third party, the fact remains that they worked for Ecobank. They wore the bank’s ID cards, T-shirts and other items. The bank paid their salaries. It used to give them some fringe benefits like us. Besides, it was untrue that it did not sack any of its staff. What about the staff disengaged in May this year of which I was among? May is still fresh and there are lingering issues against the bank on the ridiculous severance package paid to us. I am sure the bank cannot claim I was a contract staff.
Sacked staff scored 1 and 2 in the bank’s appraisal, so why the accusation of arbitrary and non use measurable indices?
Again, I need to clarify some things here. There are two batches, lately. The exercise in May affected only the core staff of Ecobank, the latest one in July affected only the non-core staff that are often referred to as contract staff. The exit of non-core staff was not based on appraisal but purely, on the decision of the bank not to renew their contracts. Everyone in Ecobank was aware of this exercise prior to its enforcement in July. The affected staff were aware and had prepared their minds to leave at a blink of an eye, but were only disappointed by the peanut being paid to them. Some got as low as N150, 000. In fact, those that replaced them were recruited en-mass around March/April.
The appraisal score was, however, applied on the May exercise that affected the core staff which I belonged to. Since I joined the bank in 2008, this is the first time this ridiculous decision would be taken by Ecobank Nigeria. A decision you cannot find in any of Ecobank Group’s policy manual, the employee’s hand book or any agreement with the labour union (ASSUBIFE). The action was predetermined and highly subjective. I got to know their game plan when someone sent a mail during the appraisal process that anyone that had been sanctioned by the disciplinary committee on any matter must be rated low. Despite the fact that anyone sanctioned by DC already have a lot to lose in line with the bank’s sanction grid. Sometimes, I pity this country, you know why? When I looked at the people at the helms of affairs in the Nigerian sub-systems like this, taking into cognisance, the kind of decisions they make with policy somersaulting on a daily basis and these are the people that would be blaming and cursing the people in government. Unfortunately, they are the same set of people that will leave banking tomorrow and aspire to be governor or NASS members. What kinds of decisions or laws will they make, or do you expect them to make for the country? You see, in Ecobank, appraisal process is in stages. The first stage is for you to appraise yourself, thereafter, your supervisor re-assess your self appraisal, at a point, both of you are expected to come together to agree on the grey areas to be able to come up with your final appraisal. Prior to the self assessment, you would have agreed your key performance indicators (KPIs) with your supervisor and on which basis you would appraise yourself. The next stage is the NORMALIZATION stage, I call it SUBJECTIVE STAGE! This is a point where your supervisor, representative of HR and other departmental heads would sit down and begin to either scale up or scale down the already awarded score by the supervisors on case by case basis. This is a stage where personal grudges or issues against employees are settled on his or her career. Unfortunately, this time they had perfected their plans to reduce the staff strength, using the criteria best known to them and with the intention not to pay the actual dues by using appraisal rating. At the normalization exercise, they came up with predetermined decision and a designed performance curve to work with, they claimed the bank did not meet its target on profit and as such no one could score above 3, in the same vein, there should be no justification for a lot of staff not to fall between 1 & 2. Was that not predetermined? Could you foresee any objectivity in that kind of a process? Knowing fully well that everyone has a KPI upon which he/she is expected to be appraised. For those of us in operations, profit was not part of our KPIs, it was meant for the marketers and staff whose KPIs include profits. But bringing the bank’s overall profit to appraise people whose KPIs do not include profit was unfair! How come it was a basis to scale down operations staff. It’s a pity they had no meaningful justification other than the bank did not meet it’s profit target and that was it’s mood! Many of us knew what they were coming up with and that was confirmed when Kingsley, the ASSUBIFE local chairman, sent a mail to us, using HR platform, to hint on the bank management’s position to use performance rating as a basis to pay severance allowance and that the union was engaging them and would revert to us. If he would revert, that maybe tomorrow. However, it might be interesting for you to know that the same appraisal system is being used by Wells Fargo Bank in USA, but in its own case, there are no bottle necks that will create rooms for injustice and anything that will make it subjective, coupled with their on nature; always want to do the right thing without prejudice!
Instances of ex-staff whose appraisal score was low due to the banks inability to provide working tools?
Apart from the fact that there is high rate of subjectivity in their appraisal system, so many of the banks’ decisions on processes are unhealthy which ultimately affect services and the staff performances. Do we talk of its non-flexibility in business, epileptic system downtime, ineffective work tools, inability to cater for office needs due to cost cutting policy of the management and the most devastating and frustrating expense approval process that was introduced by the bank thereby making it impossible to effectively and efficiently run the unit or department or branch. The cases at the branches are even worse! It’s a pity the handlers of the bank intend to position it among the top 3, but they keep doing same things and expecting different results.
You cannot be doing the same thing all the time and you expect to get different result! You cannot treat your staff badly and wish to get results. If your staff is not happy, customers will not get the best service. If your staff is not well taken care of, there is no way the best will come out of him/her. It’s a natural phenomenon! There is a Yoruba proverb that says “inu didun ni o n mu ori ya”. The brain of a happy mind will function effectively, when the mind soul is happy, the brain will reciprocate! We cannot continue to deceive ourselves.
The top banks are not closing branches irrationally like Ecobank.
These banks provide work tools and fund to run their branches. As we speak, there are so many staff of Ecobank that have used their personal cash to take care of official needs and are yet to recoup their monies. They have to do these because if anything happens and is escalated, the branch’s team lead is in peppersoup. Many of us came into the bank with high level of patriotism but what do we get in return? Frustrations, career spoilage, maltreatments etc., even at that, we still kept hope alive with loyalty to the bank, but in the end…………….. Hmmm. It’s unfortunate!
We understand that in an email to staff, the ASSUBIFE president (ecobank chapter) had warned that low appraisal score will determine terminal benefits, why do you say he was compromised?
Like I have earlier said, the ASSUBIFE local president of ecobank, sent a mail, I have a copy of that mail at home. He notified us of management’s desire to use appraisal rating to pay exit package but said the union disagreed and were still engaging them with a view to reverting back to us. That was few weeks to May 17, 2019. In fact, they had taken that decision before the guy sent that mail using HR address. It had never happened in Ecobank for the union president to use HR address to send a mail of that magnitude. I make bold to say that the ASSUBIFIE President was compromised! His predecessor, Gogo, would not allow the bank to treat its staff this way. There were instances that the former union leader sent us mails not to comply with management’s directives on request that would be injurious to us, while they engage them further. Such matters would just end there!
Unfortunately, the current president is Management “pickin”! Imagine, before our exit, there was no document that indicated normalisation scores as bases for exit package. But immediately after our exit, when the bank got wind of our plans to get our 60per cent balance of severance allowance, they quickly sent some documents to all staff, indicating that, going forward, their appraisal scores will form the bases for their exit package, for them to append their signatures, failure of which salary would not be paid to the affected staff. What do you expect under such situation? The union to vehemently oppose it! But the reverse was the case. They all signed without objection because their union has been bought over.
What are other reasons you described as ridiculous for the low appraisal rating?
One of my disengaged colleague requested for reason for her poor appraisal rating, amongst the ridiculous reasons they gave was that she does not have ATM machine in her branch, please tell me when it became the duty of staff to buy and deploy ATM to branches. ( She can give you the bank’s response) Really, nothing can be more ridiculous in this case than all I have said. However, there could be some other factors that are personal to other affected staff. But for me, what I said earlier in terms of their predetermined agenda to down-score us so as to cut our earned severance pay, bad working environment and working conditions as well as the bank management’s insensitivity to the plight of the staff, most especially, lack of promotion. There are people who have spent 8 to 14 years on a grade without promotion. Some got one promotion in 10, 11, 12 years. If I had not worked in another bank, I would think this is how banking is everywhere.
There was also a ridiculous scenario where staff were deliberately moved from the units they seems to be performing to a newly created unit – Loan Recovery Unit. These guys were rated 1, 2, in a department they had not spent up to 6 months, which is against the HR policy. They ought to have been appraised by the unit they spent the higher period. The question is, who created these bad loans. In Nigeria today, it is extremely difficult for the person who gave out loan to someone to recoup it, not to talk of his heir!
NUBIFIE National President, Comrade Anthony Abakpa told us in an interview that the bank staffs are over worked leading to many deaths in the Onmiflow unit, what do other banks do differently?
That is a fact! Overworked with rewards that do not commensurate with their efforts. In that unit, they are supposed to be doing shift. Just like in IT. When I was with them at Lekki, I pitied those young chaps a lot because they close late every day. Imagine someone leaving office at Lekki around 10.00p.m, heading to Iyana Ipaja, Ayobo, mile 2 among other places on public transport. People, most especially the ladies, risk their lives. Work-life balance is zero! They close late, many have lost their marriages, homes etc because they have to feed their families. Are they supposed to be subjected to this untold hardship simply because it is difficult to get a job in this country? What you hear them saying is that count yourself lucky that you are still in this job an that management is doing you a favour by retaining you here! All because the economy is bad and one cannot just resign and get a new job easily. But what do they get in the end?
What steps are you taking to get a redress?
We have already written them a letter through our lawyer, Falana and Falana Solicitors, with 7 days ultimatum to settle us the 60per cent balance of our severance allowance. If they refuse, of course you know the next line of actions for resolution!