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NUBIFE, Employees react as Polaris Bank issues unjust sack despite CBN order

The National Union of Banks, Insurance, and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFE) organized a protest on Tuesday at the head office of Polaris Bank in Lagos, citing alleged violations of workers’ rights and disregard for labor laws.

Despite the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issuing an order prohibiting deposit money banks from conducting mass layoffs, NUBIFE leaders and members expressed their grievances to the bank’s management. They protested against the nationwide layoff of over 40 workers without proper payment of their entitled benefits and allowances.

Starting from 6 a.m., union members arrived at the protest venue carrying placards with inscriptions such as “Banking is not slavery, stop dehumanizing workers,” “Mass retrenchment cannot grow the bank,” and “Polaris Bank management should stop the mass sack of workers.” Other messages read, “Respect our collective bargaining and the rights of workers,” “Outsourcing must wear a human face,” and “Workers deserve better treatment.” These placards were placed on the locked gate of the bank.

According to a dismissal letter dated May 31, 2023, addressed to an employee named Gift Onyeike and lacking an authorized signatory’s name, Polaris Bank stated that it was terminating Onyeike’s services as an internal security guard, effective June 1, 2023. Onyeike, who had served the bank for 20 years, revealed that he was dismissed without receiving any severance pay. He also disclosed that he had not been paid his one-month salary in lieu of notice, amounting to N68,000.

Another affected worker, Olusomu Eyikogbe, shared that he had worked for over eight years, received his dismissal letter on June 1, 2023, but was yet to receive his one-month salary in lieu of notice.

Expressing disappointment, Olusanmi Eiyitogbe, another affected worker, stated that the management provided no explanation for their dismissals. He lamented that he couldn’t even withdraw money from the one-month salary claimed to have been paid by the bank.

NUBIFE denounced the dismissal process as an unfair labor practice and highlighted that the bank failed to follow due process, despite consultations with its management. Muhammed Sheikh, the general secretary of NUBIFE, revealed that the union had received reliable information beforehand and had written multiple letters to the bank’s management, warning them to refrain from layoffs or to ensure adherence to due process. However, the bank ignored the warnings.

Sheikh emphasized that the mass layoffs were a flagrant violation of workers’ rights to collectively bargained exit packages and labor laws. He affirmed that the union would fulfill its responsibility to protect its members from any employer, company, or organization that attempted to disregard labor laws or violate due process.

The general secretary of NUBIFE stated that the union, together with the national body of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), would continue picketing the bank until the issue was resolved. Sheikh mentioned the awareness of the NLC and their intention to join the protest if no progress was made. Furthermore, he noted that their civil society coalition partners were also aware and ready to join their cause.

Polaris Bank responded to the union’s concerns in a letter presented by Olarenwaju Oyekunle, the bank’s talent and culture officer, and Segun Tawoju, the general counsel. They expressed readiness to address the issues raised. However, NUBIFE stated that the meeting with Polaris Bank’s management regarding the dismissals ended inconclusively. Sheikh informed the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the meeting yielded no tangible outcomes. The bank rejected the union’s proposal to withdraw the dismissal letters and reinstate the affected workers, insisting that the union

discuss the entitlements of the sacked workers instead.

Sheikh mentioned that the union would hold a congress to discuss the next course of action. The temporary suspension of the picketing on June 6 was due to the management’s invitation and the provision of a letter for a meeting.

It is worth noting that prior reports have highlighted pressure on President Bola Tinubu to review and reverse the “illegal” sale of Polaris Bank. The bank allegedly withheld the salaries of over 100 branch managers for two months due to a non-performing loan ratio exceeding 5%.

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