By Bimbola Oyesola
The Organised Labour had recently picketed the National Assembly over the contentious bill to move the Minimum Wage from the Exclusive list to the Concurrent list, but as far as the President of the National Union of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions (NUBIFIE), Anthony Abakpa is concerned, the bill is dead on arrival.
In this interview, he also speaks on the issue of artificial intelligence and how it has been impacting on the sector.
On the lockdown, the labour leader gave an insight on how the union was able to safeguard jobs in the sector.
Challenges of COVID-19
We give Glory to Almighty God, because we couldn’t have done it all alone without the existence of Almighty God. But in everything, we give thanks to God. Whatever it is that might have happened, in the face of the COVID-19, everyday, we seek the face of God and we make sure that our members are not affected, the Nigeria entirely is not affected, and then if that one falls in place, all of us are fine and we will continue to relate as usual. But it’s a tough one, because what we are hearing all over the world, but we will continue to pray for the end of this deadly disease. It’s a new normal, work is not normal, the protocol that the Federal Government is also applying also connotes that it’s not free for all. The social gathering aspect shows that it’s no longer business as usual. It’s painful, it’s worrisome.
It was a very tough one from the beginning of this announcement of COVID-19, from the lockdown to working from home. Also majority of our outlets and business locations of banks and insurances are shut down. There’s no activities, the entire workforce are compelled to stay at home. But the beauty of it is that, as a union, we do not allow the management to hide under the COVID-19 deadly disease to be able to disengage staff unilaterally. We’ve not recorded anyone.
It’s only Access Bank that wants to sell the template to other organisation, but when we got the wind, with the collaboration of our labour centre, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and Trade Union Congress (TUC) and support of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, the Ministry was able to wade in through the bankers committe and stopped the malicious damage that they had wanted to do. So we were able to put a stop to it and the staff members are still enjoying their salaries uninterruptedly compared to other unions. It gladdens our heart. But we also know that it will not continue. But what we are also agitating for, is to be able to have constructive dialogue with the leadership of the union. We want all the stakeholders to sit together and see how best our members can be at an advantage position.
Diamond bank issue
I think that was then. I think about six seven years ago, when we had a dialogue with the management of diamond bank. At that time, the fall out of our discussion, was not too ok and then we decided to picket them. Locked all the branches nationwide, including their head office and I think they ran to the court to get court injunction to restrain us and of course, the Industrial Court said they cannot do so because we also have a freedom of association. Have a committee and members in the unit of the bank, hence, the bank cannot unilaterally disengage the workers without discussing with the in-house union. So while that one was on, we did it to the large extent that we guarded all the activities of the union all in favour and because of the interest of our members. So when they went to court, after four years, I think the judge gave a judgement in our favour and of course, the bank said we should go back and withdraw the case from the court, so that we could discuss.
That is on and I think the next engagement will be after Easter and we will meet with the management of Access Bank. When we met with them earlier, they told us that they want to study the files, because when they took over there were lots of issues besetting diamond bank as that time. We are engaging and I think with God’s willing, we are going to get something for our members who were out as at that time.
We saw it coming that artificial intelligence will take over jobs in no time and that is why we decided that we need to look at how far we can go, because the number of the POS operators that are in vogue today, 98 percent of the workforce, they are the employers, they are members, they are also the owners. So therefore for us to be strategic, is to be able to co-opt them into our union, have a unit there and see how best we can run together for the benefit of the union and the members. That’s exactly what we have done. Yes! Artificial intelligence will also take over jobs with no time. But because of the strategy that we have decided, right now we are diversifying into business, we are also trying to run a transportation business, we intend to float it any moment from now. Then at some strategic points in some states and Lagos, we would likewise open POS outlets. Our members who have been out of jobs for four, five years would be considered to operate the outlets. That would make them to be financially autonomous.
COVID-19 effect on membership
Like I said initially, Access Bank attempted three months after the lockdown, they wanted to sell the template to other Banks and Insurance. They said they don’t need cleaners, tellers, bulk tellers, they need some drivers. So when we got the information through our insiders, we confronted the issue headlong and we escalate it to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment and the Director of Trade Union services, was also in the picture as well as the head of Industrial Relations who took up the case and met with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor. The CBN Governor through the bankers committe, issued a statement to say that no Bank should hide under COVID-19 to disengage staff members. When they heard that, all of them go back into their shell. That no one should disengage, without invitation, without engaging, without a constructive dialogue with the union. Since that time, there was no members, no workers that has been disengage unilaterally.
Organising members in new generation banks
Casualisation, outsourcing and in-sourcing are no longer new, even the regulatory body, who supervises banks and insurance, CBN and NICON, if you go there today, you have an outsourced staff there. Even right from their gates so it becomes even more challenging. Then the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment has gone to regulate and gave recruiter license to individuals who have been accredited to employ because if we say let’s stop it completely, the rate of crime in Nigeria will overshoot to 98 percent. But because those people are engaged and are working, the tellers, some of the security agents are outsourced, the bulk tellers are now outsourced. It cuts across all sectors. Telecommunications companies are even the worst. So in our own, because of the fear of the union, they don’t do anything unilaterally. Then they can join discreetly the union through our website, because there’s freedom of association. If you log in to be a member, we take it up from there, give the new member induction and training to be able to understand how things are done.
How Nigerian workers are faring in the present economy
It’s a very tough one. It’s a tough challenges, it’s a challenge of our time. History has it that every hundred years, that you ever meet one xyz disease. There has been bird flu, Ebola and others. They have all gone. The same thing, COVID-19 would also go. On the economic side, it’s a tough one and that was why, Nigerian workers vehemently resisted the move to remove the Minimum Wage from the Exclusive list to the Concurrent list. We would continue to let those in the authority know that they cannot do that to us. It’s a tough time of our time, that cannot be taken away. But the little one that the Federal executive council has implemented they should let it be. So that people will know that it’s a living wage, that we can manage for now. Cost of living has gone up, the electricity bill, food, transport, house rents, all these are encompassing in the N30,000 Minimum Wage we are talking about. It’s Shehu Shagari, that gave us the living wage many years ago, so if those in government now know they are not going to do it for us, they should not take it away from us. We are fighting it headlong and I think that the bill as am speaking to you is dead on arrival because all the national assembly have said no to it and of course we are saying no to it. That was the reason why we picket and since then across the lengths and breath of the country, we have registered our view.