Polaris Bank crisis deepens as employees picket bank over unjust sack despite CBN order
The crisis rocking Polaris Bank Limited, one of Nigeria’s retail lenders, has continued to deepen as the lender has continued to swim in the sea of controversies.
Recall, THE WITNESS had exclusively reported that there is pressure on President Bola Tinubu to review and reverse the sale of the lender, which many had tagged as ‘illegal’.
Still battling with this setback, the bank was again engulfed in another crisis after it withheld salaries of over 100 of its branch managers for two months for having non-performing loan ratio above 5 per cent.
This time, the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFE) on Tuesday staged a protest at the head office of Polaris Bank in Lagos over alleged violation of workers rights and disregard for labour laws.
The leaders and members of the union, while chanting solidarity songs, expressed their grievances to the management of the bank for laying off over 40 of its workers nationwide without being paying them their accrued entitlement and allowances.
This development comes despite an order by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) barring deposit money banks from the mass sack of their workers.
As early as 6am, some NUBIFIE members had arrived the venue of the protest with placards bearing some inscriptions like “Banking is not slavery, stop dehumanising workers”: “Mass retrenchment cannot grow the bank and “Polaris Bank management should stop the mass sack of workers”.
Other inscriptions read thus, ”Respect our collective bargaining and rights of workers”: “Outsourcing must wear human face” and “Workers deserve better treatment”, among others placed on the bank’s gate, which was under lock and key.
In a letter of sack dated May 31, 2023, addressed to Gift Onyeike and written by Catilas Resources Limited, an outsourcing company of the bank, the bank said it had withdrawn his services, as an internal security guard of the bank, effective June 1, 2023.
The letter without any name of authorised signatory, also read in part, “You are hereby advised to hand over all Polaris Bank Limited and vendor properties e.g. 1D card, lapel pin, token, call cards, among others in your care, effective May 31, 2023”.
It further read, “On our part, we want to thank you for the good working relationship over the period”.
Reacting, Onyike said, he had put in 20 years in the service of the bank and was sacked on June 1, 2023, without any disengagement allowance, disclosing that he has not been paid his one-month salary in lieu of notice, which is N68,000.
Describing the process of the sack as an unfair labour practice as the financial institution did not follow due process, even after consulting the management, the union decried management’s alleged high-handedness, as well as inhuman treatment of workers.
Another affected worker, Olusomu Eyikogbe said he had worked for over eight years and collected his own sack letter on June 1, 2023, as he is also yet to recieve his one-month salary in lieu of the notice.
The general secretary of NUBIFIE, Muhammed Sheikh lamented that the unjust layoffs are a gross violation of workers’ right to a collectively bargained exit package which is also against labour laws.
“The new management came on board barely six months ago and instead of settling down to look at how to move the bank forward, they started sacking workers.
“You cannot have a worker dedicate the better part of his life having worked over 15 years for the progress of your company and then you wake up one morning and decide to terminate their employment giving them only one month basic salary. That is completely wrong.”
He stressed that any employer, company or organisation which thinks that it can break the law guiding workers or violate due process as it pertains to labour, the union will wade in to protect its members.
Sheikh revealed that the union got reliable information prior to the sacking, and that it wrote severally to the management of the bank to desist from it or be mindful of due process if they are planning to sack, but they shunned the warning.
He stressed that as a labour union, its members’ rights as workers deserve to be protected at all cost and that NUBIFIE would continue to picket the bank together with the national body of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) until the issue is rectified.
“NLC is aware of what is going on, members will be joining us if there is no headway. Our civil society coalition partners are also aware, they are waiting in the wings to join us.”
Olusanmi Eiyitogbe one of the affected workers while expressing his disappointment said that the management gave no reason whatsoever for sacking them. He cried out that he could not even withdraw any money from the one-month salary in lieu the bank claimed to have paid.
The management of Polaris Bank in its response said it was ready to resolve the issues as it presented a letter signed by the bank’s Talent and Culture officer, Olarenwaju Oyekunle, and general counsel, Segun Tawoju to the leadership of the union inviting them for dialogue.
Polaris Bank, Union Meeting On Truce Ends In Deadlock
The National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) has said the meeting held between it and Polaris Bank management over the sack of its members ended inconclusively.
The Secretary-General, NUBIFIE, Mohammed Sheikh, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Wednesday in Lagos that the meeting ended with nothing tangible to hold on to.
Sheikh said: “We just finished the meeting, but unfortunately, the meeting could not conclude because of the fact that the demands we put across to them, the management said it may not be able to carry out the demands.
“The demand that went across was for us to have a level playing ground for negotiation.
“They are to first and foremost withdraw those sack letters and recall those workers; then we can now sit down and discuss on behalf of the workers.
“So, they declined, and said we should go ahead and discuss what the sacked workers are entitled to.
“However, we told them that our principal gave us the mandate, that firstly, in order to commence discussion, they have to rectify the wrong that they committed.
“So, it is on the grounds that we left; so, there was nothing tangible that came out of the meeting.”
The labour leader said the union would hold a Congress to discuss, and would arrive at what the next line of action would be.
According to him, the picketing held on June 6, was suspended temporarily because the management invited the union and gave a letter for a meeting.