Mrs Oyinkan Olasanoye is the first female President of the Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI). In this interview, she decried the delay in inauguration of NSITF’s board, and spoke on the union’s role in nation building in the 40 years of its existence. Excerpts:
As we speak, many of your members have been sacked while some others are currently in courts over their sack. What is ASSBIFI doing to ensure that banks, insurance and other workers under it are protected?
There is no bank that has laid off any of our member that we did not sign agreement for what he or she may take home. We may not be able to stop our members from being laid off but we have been applying due process in resolving lay-off in banks. So, for every bank that is part of ASSBIFI, there has been no lay-off that we did not sit round the table to agree on what to take home. For instance, if a bank intends to lay off 100 members, we negotiate on their condition of service.
However, there are some bank workers that are not in the union and there are some workers that felt that what we had negotiated was not commensurate with their entitlements and they went to court. Even at that, the union still followed them in most cases. Any of our member that has a case in court, we are always there to back him or her up.
The issue of contract staff is prevalent in the banking sector. What is ASSBIFI doing about it?
This is a fight that all of us must come together to fight; it is the issue of casualisation. The issue cannot be left to the union alone. Though this is not peculiar to the banking sector; we see it in the energy sector. However, the country’s Labour Act is not fair to the Nigerian workers. The Labour Act specifies that an organisation can use outsourced staff, but they cannot be used for more than six months.
Because of the unemployment level in Nigeria, it’s very difficult to ask somebody who has stayed at home for over two or three years and secures a job in a bank as a contract staff not to take such a job. What we have done as a union is that, we have met severally with the National Assembly. We have done a lot of proposals to the National Assembly including presentations. Because there is nothing at stake for this group of people, and don’t forget, in our sector, we work like a team and so, if there is a fraud involving any member of that team, all members of the team bear the consequence. But for somebody that is being paid peanuts and counting millions every day, there is tendency to perpetrate fraud.
In the oil and gas sector, there is also this problem but what the Ministry of Labour has done for the sector is to provide collective bargaining agreement. So, if you are a contract staff, you must also be in the union at least to get some sort of protection. We have been on this for the last three years, appealing to the Ministry of Labour that ASSBIFI should also be giving the same regulation that the oil and gas sector workers are enjoying that makes it possible for everybody in the sector to be covered by the Labour Act. As at now, we have not been able to achieve that. There is nothing wrong with outsourcing but the implementation is what we are fighting against. We are saying that the contract staff should be treated in a dignifying manner.
Is ASSBIFI not worried over the absence of a board in NSITF?
We are so much worried. The law that set up NSITF made it clear that the fund should be managed by a board. We are appealing to the minister to inaugurate the board to curb corruption and protect workers’ benefits. Appointing one committee after another to investigate, review the work of the committee and so on will take us nowhere. We know what to do but we are avoiding industrial action to press home the demand on NSITF because of the negative effect of industrial action on the financial sector and the nation’s economy.
We believe in collective bargaining and will not allow anything to becloud our judgment because workers’ benefits are entrusted to NSITF. We appeal to the minister to inaugurate the board of NSITF. The Act that set up NSITF states that there should be a board and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour should represent the minister. So, if there is a board and the permanent secretary represents the minister on the board, the minister should not say there are corrupt practices in the organisation when he has a representative there. We don’t think that it is now that he refused to inaugurate the board that there will be no corrupt practices there. We feel the more people are there, the better.