Standard Chartered Bank Botswana is accused of having already started implementing a disputed retrenchment exercise while a stalemate between the bank and its employees is still before the court, documents show.
Documents obtained by Sunday Standard reveal that while the bank is appealing against a decision of the Industrial Court which referred the trade dispute to the Commissioner of Labour, it has written letter to scores of its employees notifying them that their contract of employment would be terminated on 31st December this year.
The Botswana Bank Employees Union (BOBEU) had dragged the bank before the Industrial Court. Handing down judgement in favour of the union, Justice Annah Mathiba found that Standard Chartered Bank’s refusal to voluntarily submit to arbitration was improper.
Referring the matter to the Commissioner of Labour for arbitration, Mathiba states that “the matter would not proceed before this court since it’s clearly outside the jurisdiction of the court and there is no issue to argue.”
In a letter dated 19 November 2021 addressed to BOBEU’s secretary general Aron Motsokotso, Head of Human Resources at Standard Chartered Bank Lizzynet Maponga stated that the union had previously requested clarity with regard to Management’s plans on the project (retrenchment exercise) following the lifting of the State of Emergency.
She said unfortunately, at the time, Management was not in a position to fully address that query as they were still awaiting confirmation from the Ministry (Finance) on the process that needed to be followed.
“We have since received the feedback and guidance from the Ministry and can properly address the query as follows: Management will progress the People Project by finalizing the exits of all colleagues who were assessed but were not successful. Exit dates will be the 31st December 2021,’ she said.
She added that; “Management hereby notifies the Union that, in order to prevent any hardship to our employees who will be exiting by making them wait for payment while the matter is still going through the Court process, payment of the package will be made at the rate of their last offer during negotiations.”
Maponga said once the ongoing litigation process has been finalized and a package agreed therefrom or ordered, then Management will pay out whatever balances will be due to the colleagues to align with the newly agreed package. Both payments will be subject to applicable tax laws/deductions.
“If, for any reason, the resulting package from the litigation/arbitration is lower than what Management would have already paid out, the colleagues will not be required to pay anything back and the new packages will be applicable only in the future,” she said.
She added that; “For the avoidance of doubt, the below will be paid out in addition to any other statutory payments due:1.25 basic salary, capped at employer’s contribution towards pension; Minimum payout of BWP 10,000.00, 12 months medical aid, 12 months staff lending rate and a 20% discount on loans cleared within 6 months of exit.”
In its grounds of appeal, the bank says the Industrial Court failed to exercise its discretion judicially in that failing or refusing to afford it a proper hearing when granting orders and granting contradictory orders in that the Court holds that it does not have jurisdiction to entertain the union’s application and at the same grants the substantive prayers sought by the Union.
Meanwhile before the expiry of the State of Emergency, BOBEU has launched a crusade against Standard Chartered Bank Botswana accusing it of secretly exporting jobs to Asia in breach of the State of Emergency which came into force at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter which was copied to the Governor of bank of Botswana, Permanent Secretary Office of the President, Chief Executive Officer of SCBB and the bank’s Africa region among others the union claims that the bank had exited 100 employees plus amid in violation of Public State of Emergency which prohibited companies to lay off employees.
The Union also claimed that a fraction of this number has already “been exited already under a dubious Mutual Separation Scheme which was hatched by the bank management.”
“This was done outside the negotiations between the bank and the union on the exit package of the affected employees. The ingenuous explanation we get as the representative of the employees was the employees are requesting to leave and not want to wait for the State of Emergency to be lifted,” the union stated in a letter that was addressed to the Commissioner of Labour.
The union said, “We are observing and register a concern that the bank is exporting jobs under their Project 2020 Strategy and the disguise of restructuring.”
The chairperson of Botswana Bank Employees Union (BOBEU) Mills Thoron alleged that the bank has been invoking Section 25 of the Employment Act in September 2015, October 2016, August 2017, May 2018, October 2018, March 2019 and August 2019, something that the Union says is in breach of the country’s labour laws.
“It’s improper that the bank has been sideling the union on matters of collective bargaining and hence violating State of Emergency regulations. Another example is when the bank extended the Mutual Separation Agreement to Impacted employees and pressuring employees to apply for the scheme. SCBB (Standard Chartered Bank Botswana) management has since adopted the dilly-dallying tactic of not acting timeously or plain non0repsonse,” he says.
According to Thoro, “This constitute an unfair labour practice and impact on employee and employer relations unnecessarily.”
He alleged that the following are their concerns that they intend want to draw the Commissioner of Labor’s attention to:
-The employer, SCBB had refused consent to arbitration and ignored mediator advisory award when they were to respond, hence the bank introduced a parallel exit scheme called Mutual Separation Agreement whereby now they dealt with employee directly to the exclusion of the Union.
-This has resulted in the bank dealing with employees directly rather than through their legally constituted union (BOBEU). This has created a clear coercion as it is between the employee and his boss who naturally is known for using force, threats and other undermining tactics.
– It is expected that most of the employees will end up negotiating for themselves out the employment; in all intent and purpose this surely amount to constructive dismissal.
“So far SCBB has closed six branches in spite of State of Emergency (SOE) purposes and intent. We have observed that the Management has found a cunning way of downsizing under the pretext of poor performance and the like which we are seeing happening for those dealing with sales.
“We want to address the attention of the authorities to this very unfortunate situation happening at the expense of the employees,” alleged Thoro.
He added that the union “professes that the SCBB is engaging in activities and decisions that are likely to harm the citizen employees’ welfare under the project 2020 Strategy it intends to do the following:”
-The bank is ‘hubbing’ servicing and technology and transacting process outside the country to markets in Asia (exporting jobs).
-The bank has identified sample test that are going to be performed desktop for Operations and Technology Department outside the country (export jobs).
-These are local department’s transaction within Standard Chartered bank Botswana to be now performed by Global Business Centres which will lead to job losses.
Thoro also claims that the bank is extending “to impacted employees Tebogo Scheme “which was used in September 2003 which rate is 1.25 basic monthly salary, the same rate of 1.25 monthly salary of 2003 is now capped up to 24 years and initially they wanted to Capp it to their pension contribution to the employee which we objected and the bank went behind the union and directly dealt with employees under the Mutual Separation Agreement.”
The unionist therefore, called for fairness and justice in the implementation of the exit scheme.
“Employee’s exit package are being taxed in wholesome when on 2/3 is liable for taxing, this comprises and impact negatively on the take home of the individuals concerned. This is a heavy burden to the affected employees who would have joined the pool of the unemployed,” said Thoro.
He stated further that “Standard Bank Botswana’s action of exportation of jobs will lead to job losses/redundancies that increase unemployment for profit motives by the bank.”
“We are all very concerned that the SCBB is also knowingly or unknowingly delocalizing certain positions that were previously held by local and were in the hands of non-citizens. The examples are the position of Human Resources and others,” said Thoro.