By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

Oluyemi, a teacher in one of the private secondary schools in Iyana Ipaja, a Lagos suburb, visited his banker friend, John, his old pal at Loyola College, Ibadan. At the Oju Ore, Ota branch of one the old generation bank where John was branch manager, there were complaints from customers across the counter over poor services.

One of the customers became unruly and was shouting on top of his voice, the noise drew John’s attention, and he had to temporarily leave his friend to attend to the bedlam at the banking hall.

Back to his office, he told his friend, Oluyemi that the problem has to do with casualisation of staff, stating that aside he and another staff, all others are contract staff with no previous experience. This lack of experience and professionalism is reflecting on service delivery, he said.

With banks cutting down their respective operating cost, they have now resorted to employing contract staff at the expense of permanent staff. This development is, however, a time-bomb that could threaten the entire banking system, if not addressed now.

Across all sectors of Nigerian economy, the word ‘casualisation’ is no longer alien; it is now the king of the labour market. The fact that over 40 million Nigerians are unemployed with about four million people losing their jobs yearly has made casualisation of workers a permanent feature, especially, in the formal sector of the economy.

Nigerian banking industry in recent times have seen a rising trend in cases of insider related fraud as the volume of fraud in the sector continue to rise. This some have linked to the rising number of contract staff in the banking sector. Over N15 billion was lost last to insider related fraud.

With the economy witnessing a downturn in economic activities, banks have had to look at ways to cut back on their spending as their profits dropped. This had seen them take on more contract workers such that they will spend less on salaries, among other severance package.

Contract Staff Phenomenon

Basically a contract staff is one that works for an entity with an agreement to perform a specific task or job but is not on the staff roll of the company. In a normal setting, contractors earn more money than employees do.

That is because contractors have the leverage to charge more and can take home a lot more of their pay than employees are able to. However, in most cases, contract employees work through a contract of employment with a vendor company. For a contract staff working in a bank, the bank does not pay such employee directly.

The recent economic recession hit most banks on several fronts, ranging from a record high bad loan (non-performing loans) of N1.02 trillion to a decline in income from import financing. All these tied together led to the decline of banks’ income to 54.3 percent in the first half of 2016 from 63.8 percent in December 2015, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

In view of the dwindling revenue and the impact of loan loss on their institutions, banks resorted to cost cutting measures, one of which was staff retrenchment.

The first two quarters of 2017, NBS reports on banks indicate that a total number of 3,089 banks’ staff lost their jobs. Between Q1 and Q2, 13 top bank executives lost their jobs; 657 senior level staff and 2419 junior level staff, who suffered the most jobs casualty. At this time, job loss cut across all the cadre of employees in the banking sector, except contract staff.

Banking sector data released by the NBS showed that the percentage of contract staff in banks have risen year on year between 2017 and 2018 by 39.8 per cent as against a 15.7 per cent increase recorded for the entire staff in the sector.

The data showed that the percentage of contract staff had soared in from 35.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2018 to 43.2 per cent in the second quarter. As the number of staff in the sector rose, the number of contract worker grew alongside.

By the second quarter of 2018, the number of contract staff in banking halls had increased by 101.2 per cent, as NBS data showed that the number of contract staff in banking halls rose to 43,955 compared to 21,837 contract staff in the employ of banks in the country as at June 2017.

Latest data from the NBS showed that contract staff in banking halls is presently 43.2 per cent of total banking staff figure with 45,238 of the 104,669 bank staff being contract workers.

Figures showed that the number of contract bank workers increased from 32,359 at the end of December 2017 and 44,484 as at the end of the third quarter of 2018, to 45,238 by December 2018 reflecting a 39.8 and 1.69 per cents increase year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter respectively.

Comparing this with a 0.55 reduction in the number of junior staff in between December 2017 (41,338) and December 2018 (41,111), there was a 9.36 per cent increase in the number of senior staff from 16,568 in 2017 to 18,119 in 2018 and 6.9 per cent rise in the number of executive staff from 197 in 2017 to 201 in 2018.

This reflects that the contract staff are taking up the jobs of junior workers who work mainly as marketers, tellers, amongst others, in the banking hall.

Contract Staff Complain

Mr. Olu Ayodele said contract staff in banks are really poorly treated. “I even have a friend who works for a new generation bank who told me that he is really finding it tough as a contract staff but has no choice due to the lack of jobs in Nigeria. He complains of the very little salary he collects which is about N70,000 and works from morning till around 9pm,” he stressed.

Folake Ayomisi has been working in a bank as a contract employee for the past four years and she is now getting apprehensive about what the future holds for her. She does not know if her contract with the bank will be renewed or not and even if the contract is renewed, her salary will not be better than what it is now in any case.

Ayomisi has struggled endlessly to ensure that her employer converts her employment to a permanent one but her aspiration seems to be a mirage. To make matters worse, the bank often threatens its entire contract staff with termination of appointment at any given opportunity.

Ayomisi and her colleagues are quite eager to secure good jobs with better conditions elsewhere but since such jobs are not within their reach, they are compelled to make do with their current occupation, although the working conditions are unpalatable.

Recently, a contract staff in one of the new generation banks in Lagos had attempted to steal a boxful of dollar notes after the bank had closed for the day. To avert these kinds of scenario, CBN had warned commercial banks to desist from giving sensitive banking roles to contract staff, as they may not have a stake in the banks.

Former CBN Director, Banking and Payments System Department, ‘Dipo Fatokun noted that the apex bank has severally, encouraged banks to ensure that their staff are those with something at stake.

“A temporary staff may not have a stake in the bank so to say. So, it is encouraged that if they have staff that are not permanent, they should not give them responsibilities or roles that will expose them to critical functions of a bank,” he said.

To him, “If you are giving somebody an authority to approve transactions of high magnitude, and he does not have a stake in your bank, then you are already exposing yourself. So, this been going on and I believe many banks understand the need to rely on their key staff for major duties. That is one of the reasons, the fraud attempts have been rising, but the value lost is declining.”

Labour, stakeholders kick

Some stakeholders, who spoke with BusinessHallmark, expressed fears that the increasing spate of casualisation in banks may be responsible for the rising cases of frauds in the banking industry. According to them, most frauds in banks may have been perpetrated by contract staff whose meagre salaries are barely enough to keep their eyes away from depositors’ funds.

For the National President, Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI), Comrade Oyinkan Olasanoye, the country Labour Act has not been fair to workers. She said under the Act, organisations can use outsourced staff, but they cannot be used for more than six months before they are converted to full-time employees.

However, Olasanoye told this newspaper that organisations are not keeping to the rules, as outsourced staff remain in the same position for years, and sometimes, sacked without due consultation. She accused the Ministry of Labour and Employment of not enforcing compliance among companies, stating that the Ministry needs to encourage more inspectors to go out and look at the conditions that casual workers are being exposed to.

The ASSBIFI national president, however, said the Association sent a lot of proposals to the National Assembly, drawing its attention to the negative effects of casualisation in the financial sector, but the Association is yet to get a feedback on those proposals

Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) General-Secretary, Mr Lumumba Okugbawa, is no less worried by banks’ preference for contract staffing. Describing casualisation as “a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabrics of our industry in particular”, he said most companies’ management keyed into this option to short-change the average worker in order to maximise profit.

The PENGASSAN scribe also accused banks and other orgnaisations engaged in contract staffing, of denying employees their right to be organised.

“We agree that there are short-term jobs like three to six months, but keeping a worker for up to 15 years as a casual worker is nothing short of slavery and should be condemned in its entirety.

“We, therefore, call for a strengthening of our relevant laws to discourage this menace. In some climes, due to the short period and fixed term of their contract, these categories of workers even earn more than the so-called permanent or regular workers. The struggle is still on to discourage this practice. Casual or contract workers have no legal protection.”

Also speaking on evils of casualisation, Barrister Leke Job, SAN, a Kaduna-based legal practitioner and activist, said:

“Casual employment refers to contracts of employment which are for a short duration. It is characterised by uncertainty, temporariness, flexibility, fluctuations in workload, and so on. Casualisation, as the phenomenon is often referred to, can take several forms and called by different nomenclatures, depending on the country and work enterprise.

“It could be called casual labour, temporary staff, contract staff, outsourced labour (i.e. labour supplied by sub-contractors), on-call workers (called in to work only as and when they are needed), zero hours contracts (workers, who are not entitled to any minimum number of hours of work), undocumented labour, seasonal labour, and so on.”

Job emphasised that casual workers tend to be underpaid and are not entitled to any rights – no fringe benefits, transport, feeding, medical care allowances, no freedom of unionisation, no pension, no leave, and so on. He said in most cases, they are only paid for days worked regardless of sickness–induced absence from work.

The activist said the policy is in practice, not only in the private sector, but also in the public sector. He added that unfortunately, there is no legal protection for the typical casual worker in Nigeria.

“The Labour Act ought to be overhauled such that, in principle, labour casualisation is abolished or at least, properly regulated within the relevant standards established in International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and Recommendations so that the casual worker is entitled to basic trade union rights,” he urged.

He therefore, called on the labour movement to put pressure on the Federal Government to ratify relevant ILO conventions.

“In the least, I recommend for Nigeria, the adoption of the Zimbabwean legal protection for the casual worker. In Zimbabwe, Section 12 (3) of the Labour Act provides protection for job security of casual workers.

“Under this Section, casual workers are entitled to not being unfairly dismissed. Their dismissal can only be valid if substantive and procedural fairness are shown. Indeed, Section 12 (3) of the Labour Act provides that a casual contract (casual worker) shall be deemed to have been converted to a permanent contract (employee) where the employee works for an aggregate period of more than six weeks in any four consecutive months.”

BusinessHallmark learnt that the engagement of contract staff is common mainly among the top tier banks, some of who may have just two full staff in a branch. Some of the contract staff who spoke with this newspaper, lamented the outrageous targets given to them to sustain their contract.

President Muhammadu Buhari had, at the last Centenary International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, told a gathering of world leaders, employers and workers representatives that casualisation of workers in any form was no longer in practice in Nigeria.

This was even as he said labour should be the centre piece of economic and social policies for building a just, fair, equitable and egalitarian society in the future.

Towards realising this, Buhari said the Nigerian government has inaugurated and launched the 2017-2020 Federal Civil Service Strategy and Implementation Plan for the purpose of improving and developing capacity in the public sector to advance the nation’s economy.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr. Williams Alao, who spoke on behalf of President Buhari and Nigeria, as head of the Nigerian delegation to this year’s ILO Centenary session, said Nigeria as a country has already barred casualisation.

He said the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment had issued several circulars banning casualisation in Nigeria, adding that casualisation was not acceptable in the country.

“I am pleased to inform this august gathering that Nigeria is one of the countries that has convened a National Dialogue on the Future of Work and is implementing many of the initiatives as well as the recommendations of our National Dialogue.

“We agree with the ILO that labour, being the most critical factor of production, should be the fulcrum of economic and social policies if we are to have a just, fair, equitable and egalitarian society in the future.”

 

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