Nigerian Banks As Slave Camps
Apart from working like elephants and feeding like ants, bank workers are subjected to many unwholesome labour conditions by their employers
Helen Asuquo (not real name) is a young, beautiful banker with the United Bank for Africa, UBA, Ikeja, Lagos. As a marketer in the bank, Asuquo said she had to use unconventional means, including sleeping with potential depositors, just to meet her quarterly target of N20 million. In a particular encounter to get a fat account, a wealthy man, after sleeping with her promised to fetch her juicier government accounts if she would spread the favour to his friends. After succeeding in meeting her obligation to her employers, her reward for such hard work was a harder target, which was N100 million. The idea by the banks to give high and unrealistic targets to female marketers is widespread, with some as high as N500 million to N1billion, failing which they are sacked. This unsavoury practice is foisted on the female marketers irrespective of their marital status.
In a bid to meet these targets, married marketers are trapped in a sex-for-account situation. It is rife for some married bankers removing their wedding bands while marketing. This act was corroborated by a Nigerian billionaire with vast business empire, who once told this medium how a female marketer secretly removed her wedding ring in his office, while trying to convince him to open an account with her bank. In spite of the challenge the helpless marketers face, there is no guarantee that their jobs are secured with the banks.
This is one of the unethical practices in the banking sector. Others are casualisation, improper outsourcing of the workforce, long hours of work without commensurate monetary reward, and being eased out of the system without terminal and other benefits .
In December last year, Sahara reporters, an online medium, published the experience of Evelyn Olisakwe Ukamaka, a married former marketer with Ecobank. Ukamaka, recounting an experience she had in 2008, said but for her boldness, she would have ended up a victim of the sex-for-deposit that now pervades the entire banking industry of the country.
According to her, the bank, that year, gave its marketers, including her, an unbelievable target in the form of deposits, “like they were hanging on trees and all we were to do was ‘pluck’ the monies. Most women told me horrific stories of how they had affairs with men and women alike, all in the name of getting deposits.”
The woman said, to meet her target, she had visited an oil magnate and member of her church to sell to him some of the bank’s services even though she was very sure marketers of other banks had also reached him.
She said after offering her a bottle of malt drink, the man, whose name she refused to mention, with a lewd smile brought a low chair and sat opposite her, his knees almost grazing hers. Her chest began to thump and she forgot all that she had composed to tell her about the services. “He didn’t give me a chance to catch my breath and confidence. My stomach quivered in fear. He knew this game well,” she said.
The businessman asked her how long she had been in the banking industry and she told him she was new. He then began to make promises of how he was going to shock her pleasantly with a whopping N100 million fixed deposit.
“Do you know if I call your MD and tell him I am going to give you N100,000,000 in fixed deposit you would be given double promotion? What even is your salary? Do you have an official car yet? I am going to shock you, baby. Just ask about me. Do you know how many ladies ‘chase’ me for deposit? I just like you,” he continued boasting.
As it turned out, however, it was the businessman who got the shock when the lady, apparently irritated, told him to shut up and hurriedly stepped out of the office.
This is just one out of the many unsavoury experiences of female bank staff whose task it is to market the services of the bank and bring in as many customers or face sack.
A female staff of one of the banks told this magazine in confidence that bank marketers are almost on the same pedestal with prostitutes. The only difference is that, while the bank staff dresses corporately with very short skirts that would get the proposed customer salivating and making promises under ‘duress’, prostitutes either hang out on the streets or brothels to get their customers. According to the lady, who works with Stanbic IBTC, once the target is fixed, it is left for the marketer to find the means to meet it. Those who can meet it are compensated, perhaps with promotion when the opportunity arises; those who can’t are either threatened endlessly or kicked into the labour market.
“It is no longer a big deal that marketers sleep with customers to meet targets. If any marketer tells you that she has not slept with a customer before, you have to run away from her because she is not telling you the truth,” the 34-year-old lady, who is still single, said.
She further revealed that, as obtains in most banks these days, a basic requirement for such job is beauty. In some cases, the female applicant is asked to forward a copy of her passport photograph and where she is found worthy, she faces the next step where she is tested on ability to speak fluently. Once she scales this, she gets the job.
“These days, they hardly conduct such difficult tests like it was done in the past, she disclosed. “Once you are beautiful and presentable, be sure of the job.”
Onobrorhie Deborah, a mother of two, is a contract staff with UBA. Despite having young kids to look after, she doesn’t return home until 8pm daily from work. Although the official closing hour is 5pm, she claimed that she is compelled to balance her account, which could take up to three to five hours, depending on the volume of the day’s transaction. Sadly, there are no commensurate benefits for the overtime done.
However, UBA is not alone in denying staff their required benefits for overtime. According to Comrade Danjuma Musa, President of the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees, NUBIFIE, the union has been engaging all the banks on the issue of staff working overtime. “The normal closing hour is 5pm, but bank workers are not allowed to leave until very late at night, yet they are paid peanuts or not paid at all. I realised that Diamond Bank pays N200 for overtime irrespective the hours a worker spends after the official closing hours and distance between the office and where the worker resides,” Musa said.
Aside the aforementioned unwholesome acts, banks are also criticised for enslaving their workers through casualisation. This is said to be the reason they prevent staff from unionising, which Musa identified as a drawback to the union’s efforts at engaging the banks.
Comrade Sunday Olusoji Salako, President of the National Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI, blames the unfair treatment of workers in the banking sector, particularly junior staff, on the paucity of jobs despite the escalating number of able job seekers. He stated that it has made many applicants victims of banks aiming to cut cost by sourcing cheap labour. One way in which they do this is by employing Ordinary National Diploma, OND, holders who are paid peanuts, while ignoring those with Higher National Diploma, HND, and university degrees. This is made easy with the collusion of outstsourcing companies, which recruit workers on behalf of the banks.
As Musa noted, the banks, knowing that casualisation is illegal, decide to embrace outsourcing services. “For me, outsourcing has similar practices as casualisation and temporary staffing are couched in harsh and unfavourable contract agreements that deny workers their benefits and entitlements. Besides, many of the outsourcing companies are owned by top bank executives and those that have links to them. It is another avenue of exploiting bank workers and maximising profits,” he said. Musa blamed the Federal Ministry of Labour and Productivity for issuing licences to outsourcing companies without ensuring that they comply fully with the terms of agreements. “The banks are unyielding despite our protestations and the pains the workers go through because the Federal Ministry of Labour, which issues the licences to the outsourcing companies, fails to do its work of properly monitoring their activities, which is at the detriment of the Nigerian worker,” he said.
Every bank in Nigeria today embraces outsourcing, with most of them owning the outsourcing companies. For instance, Insourcing Nigeria Limited is owned by First Bank Nigeria. And it is common practice for the banks to contract recruitment of cleaners, messengers, drivers, tellers, and more recently, marketers, to such outsourcing companies. In all cases, banks save huge costs paying the contract staff wages far below what would have been paid for permanent employees. Whichever way, the contract staff always get the short end of the stick. The trend at Guaranty Trust Bank, for example, is that if the monthly salary of a graduate is N100,000, the outsourcing company reduces the amount to N70,000 while supplying the staff. The bank, in turn, pays a commission of about 10 per cent to the outsourcing company for a job well done. Both ways, while the bank is saved N30,000, the outsourcing company secures a profit of 10 per cent on each N70,000. The pattern in Access Bank, for example, is to pay N70,000 to the outsourcing company for a staff. The outsourcing company then goes ahead to pay what it deems fit to the staff, which is a fraction of what the bank offers.
To prevent effective opposition from victims of outsourcing, the management of the banks and outsourcing companies ensure that contract staff do not engage in unionism. Staving off unionism has also been rendered easy by bank. Whenever NUBIFIE officials approach outsourcing companies, as the direct employer of contract staff, the companies always respond that they are not banks and that they also recruit for other establishments and, therefore, do not remit union fees, since they are not covered, in any way, by the NUBIFIE blanket. An investigation has revealed that Stanbic IBTC plc currently has a workforce which comprises 20 per cent permanent staff and 80 per cent contract or casual workers. While the former enjoy big salary package, the casual or contract worker, who is usually overworked and made to stay at work sometimes till 10pm, is paid between N40,000 to N50,000. Added to the harsh conditions under which they work, casual or contract staff in the banks have no job security. Since they are employed under loose conditions, many of them are sacked at the slightest excuse, even after putting in many years of service. In cases of rationalisation or downsizing, the casual workers, more often than not, fall prey.
It has been argued that the enslavement of workers by banks is necessitated by their desperation to cut cost and maximise profits, given the cut-throat competition that followed the licensing of more banks in the 1990s. With more banks came the scramble for customers. At first, the competition by banks for more customers was mild. But it soon became fierce. It became even more intense in 2006, when the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, directed banks to capitalise to the tune of N25 billion. Banks that could not meet the CBN target went under while the few that met the mark continued the scramble for customer’s accounts. Seven years after the recapitalisation process, the need to maintain profitability on investment is still driving banks to employ unconventional ways to woo customers to open accounts with them.
In their desperation, the banks subject their staff to sub-human working conditions, which could best be described as modern-day slavery.
Mrs. Abimbola Ajayi, a former employee of Diamond Bank, said she was paid only three months salary after working with the bank for 10 years. During a protest earlier this year, contract staff accused Diamond Bank’s management of enslaving them. The direct sales employees, DSE, of the bank poured their frustrations and agitations into a petition regarding their new commission and sundry treatment by the bank, which they consider as grossly unfair. In their petition to the National Assembly, the workers described their predicament as “working like elephants and eating like ants”.
The workers complained that the attractive bonuses dangled at them and initially paid to them for raking in huge deposits was slashed, with the consequence of killing their zest to keep stepping up performance. Added to their woes is the bank’s recent policy of increasing sales target despite the fact that the DSEs have always contributed to swelling the number of accounts opened in the bank. The sales target, which was 20 accounts initially, was raised to 40 last year. Currently, the target stands at 70 accounts.
According to the employees, apart from extra pains that striving to meet such tall targets inflict on them, they are left at the mercy of Business managers and other line supervisors constantly breathing down their necks. It is not unusual for those who collapse under the pressure to be relieved of their jobs. The DSEs claim that rather than selling unrealisable targets, the ideal aim should be chasing quality accounts monthly, which does not necessarily come in large quantity. Meanwhile, fixed deposit, as a product of the bank, yields nothing in terms of commission to the DSEs presently. They claim that while they still sell the product for the bank as another major means of mobilising fund, the hitherto juicy commission has been removed.
Worst still, the fixed pay or salary of the direct sales employees, which they rely upon for transportation, communication and other purposes, as they hit the road daily, keeps decreasing. Initially, the amount was N30,000 monthly, out of which Strategic Outsourcing Limited, SOL, the company which engaged them, deducted N2,000. But the N28,000 has been slashed to N20,000 without any reduction in the N2,000 given to SOL, leaving the agents with a meagre N18,000 salary.
The direct sales employees also claim that they have been denied the income they make through packaging risk assets. The move by the bank was allegedly based on the observation that risk assets packaged by the agents usually go bad. The agents are however quick to puncture this, on the basis that risk assets packaged by highly remunerated, trained core staff of the bank have also severally ended up as bad risk assets.
Thrown into the bundle of complaints by the employees are issues of tax receipts and a practically non-existent medical scheme. Although their salaries reflect tax deductions monthly, there are no receipts to back it up. And when they fall sick, they pay for treatment at the hospitals to which they are directed for treatment from their own lean pockets. Although the DSEs commended the bank’s recent move of attempting to convert some of them to full staff, the downside is that they are required to sit for aptitude tests, which many of them may not pass. Their excuse is that too much time is required on a daily basis to allow proper preparation for tests. They claim that selling the bank’s products for years and acquiring experience along the line should suffice as adequate qualification, particularly since the direct sales employees have been responsible for putting the so-called fresh trainees through on product knowledge.
A former contract staff with Skye Bank, Mike Okwue, says he worked for the bank for four years on a monthly salary of N45,000. Out of this, the agency that employed him took N7,000, leaving him with a mergre N38,000 take-home for his family of three. For the two years that he worked at the bank, Okwue said, he was never promoted but relied mostly on occasional tips from wealthy customers. The hardest part, according to Okwue, was having to spend a sizable amount from his salary to maintain a corporate look. “Everyone in my neighborhood had the impression that I was doing well in the bank. I always appeared clean with my suit so they all thought I was a big boy. Only my wife knew my true situation. In fact, for the four years I spent in the Operations department of Skye Bank, my wife was practically the breadwinner of the family. I could not even afford to check out the price of a car, let alone plan to buy one. It was that bad.”
When Skye Bank eventually decided to sack him, Okwue said he was summoned to the bank headquarters under the guise that his work needed evaluation. On getting to the headquarters, Okwue said he was handed a sack letter, along with his N38,000 pay for the month. Describing his years at Skye Bank as wasted, Okwue said he would never encourage anyone to work in the bank as a contract worker
But according to Rasheed Bolarinwan, Head, Corporate Communication, what obtains in Skye Bank in all indices as it concerns contract staff, is no different from the standard practice in Nigeria’s banking industry.
He said: “Those who work with us, do not operate under a different working condition from full staff of the bank – we sit in the same office, use same furniture, eat in same cafeteria and enjoy access to medical care among other benefits and remunerations. Their taxes are remitted, ditto for their pensions.
“We have a practice in Skye Bank of converting diligent and highly efficient contract staff to full staff, once they are certified fit by Human Capital Management (HCM) for higher roles. Some get converted once they present their degree certificate and prove responsible and diligent on their jobs. Contract staff who work in non-marketing functions don’t have deposit target and are not assessed on same. The bank’s policy is to encourage those contract staff, some of whom don’t have the entry requirement for officer’s grade, to acquire additional educational requirement so as to be eligible for conversion. The bank’s policy is humane and is driven by fairness and equity.”
Explaining the position of the law on contract labour in the country, Robert Igbinedion, a legal practitioner, said the Labour Act does not criminalise contract job but stipulates that the terms must be fair. According to Igbinedeon, the practice of engaging a staff under contract terms for more than two years is against the principle of fairness as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution and Labour Act. He however noted that most bank workers under unusual contract terms are not willing to challenge the terms for fear of losing their jobs.
But the casual labour practice in Nigeria has not been without its own repercussion on the banks. It has been identified as a cause of the rampant cases of pilfering of customers’ funds, outright fraud and embezzlement, and blind stealing by bank staff.
The ASSBIFI president maintains that in other climes, contractors or outsourcing companies involved in the recruitment process for establishments have no business shortchanging workers they employ through the depletion of their earnings. According to him, the process in Nigeria has been turned on its head, since government lacks the political will to keep the banks and the outsourcing outfits in check. He revealed that in most cases, government officials and top political office holders have the highest stakes in these banks, and with many of them being direct or indirect owners, the move to support the passage of bills in the National Assembly that support better working conditions and equal pay packet is usually stalled. Currently, some banks disallow unionism despite clear laws supporting it in the Trade Union and Employee Compensation Acts
A check with banks in other parts of the world shows that there are clear disparities between how workers are treated in Nigeria and in other countries. For instance, in Europe Central Bank, Frankfurt, Germany, bank workers are employed under fixed-term convertible or fixed-term non-convertible working conditions.
Under the fixed-term convertible working condition, permanent positions in the bank are filled on the basis of three-year contracts, except for managerial and advisory positions, which are filled on the basis of five-year fixed-term contracts. A fixed-term contract offered for a permanent position may thereafter be converted to an unlimited contract, subject to a review procedure that takes into account both organisational considerations and individual performance. Like the Nigerian system, a six-month probationary period applies.
Under the fixed-term non-convertible condition, contracts are offered to cover either a specific time-limited organisational need or the absence of a staff member. Candidates selected for such positions are offered fixed-term contracts for the duration of the position, which cannot be converted to a permanent contract. However, depending on evolving organisational needs, such fixed-term contracts may be extended.
Short-term contracts are offered to provide temporary cover for the absence of staff members for a minimum of three months and a maximum of 12 months. They can neither be extended beyond 12 months nor converted to fixed-term contracts.
—Funsho Balogun, Folarin Ademosu, Henry Ojelu & Eromosele Ebhomele/PM NEWS