It is the banking industry’s dirty little secret.
The eager young faces that flirt about behind glass counters, flashing friendly smiles at customers, are so desperate to make an impression and secure that all-important step on the slippery rung of the industry ladder that they are prepared to work under illegal and unfair conditions.
Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information that some local banks are subjecting employees to conditions of service that contravene Botswana’s labour laws. Scores of bankers are forced to serve probation for periods longer than those prescribed by the country’s labour laws.
Some banks have adopted a “Standard” 14 days notice period for employees regardless of whether they are on probation or fully employed, which is also unlawful,
Bank of Botswana (BOB) and First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) are the industry’s biggest culprits.
Section 20 (1) of the Employment Act CAP 47 provides that in the case of contract of employment for an unspecified period of time (other than a contract of employment for a specified piece of work, without reference to time), the probationary period for unskilled employees shall be 3 months, whereas in the case of skilled employees, as the contract may specify immediately after the commencement of employment under the contract, it shall be limited to 12 months.
BOB and FNBB, however, do not distinguish between the respective employees’ categories as specified by law.
Sunday Standard has in its possession a copy of an offer letter addressed to an unskilled prospective employee set for engagement by BOB, as a Trainee supervisor:
“You will be on probation for a minimum of six months. During this period, the appointment may be terminated by 14 calendar days notice by either party or payment of 14 days salary in lieu notice,” stated the offer letter. Yet, according to a judgment passed in the case, Gaopotlake v Dulux Botswana (Pty) Ltd (2000) BLR458 IC by Justice De Villiers, to determine whether one is skilled or unskilled, in the context of labour law, the court considers the relevance of qualifications held by an individual to the job they do and the training undergone for such employment as well as their experience.
Against this background, it has been held by Justice Dingake in the case Diau v Building Society (2003) 2 BLR 409 that, where an employee’s probation period is made to go beyond the acceptable period as prescribed by law, they shall be considered to be fully employed immediately following the conclusion of the period which is otherwise the legally prescribed length of probation, which, in the case of unskilled employees, is three months.
Chepete Chepete, Public Relations Officer at BOB, confirmed his Bank’s unlawful practice. He pointed out that, currently, the Bank’s General Conditions of service do not categorize employees and that upon first appointment, staff of the Bank serve six months but not exceeding twelve months from the date of appointment.
“However, the Bank is in the process of reviewing the existing General Conditions of Service with a view to making a distinction between unskilled and professional employees,” said Chepete.
He added that “specifically, in the processed GCS, unskilled staff members who are employed on contracts of indefinite duration shall upon first appointment serve a probationary period of three months (as required by law)”.
In yet another similar instance, one employee hired by the FNBB as a clerk without requisite specialized training who also shared the contents of their offer letter with the Sunday Standard queried that they were given six months thereby exceeding the statutory prescription.
To make matters worse, information passed to the Sunday Standard by impeccable sources further reveals that some of the banks give their employees fourteen days notice period, even after probation, irrespective of the interval between their salary periods; this also breaches the law.
According to section 38 of the Employment Act, any employer who enters into contract of employment or a collective labour agreement containing terms contrary to the provision of the Act shall be guilty of an offence and liable to penalties stipulated in section 151 of the same Act.
Notwithstanding these charges, and the fact that the banks have been engaged in these unlawful practices for a longtime, though it is already about seventeen years since the Act contained the provisions under issue, both labour officials and union leaders have feigned ignorance.
Secretary General of Botswana Banks Employee Union (BOBEU), Keitshokile Basoti, said he was not aware of the said anomalies in the bank employees working conditions.
“Some of these things, we can only know them if employees themselves alert us,” he said.
An official of the Bank of Botswana Workers Union, who was reluctant to be quoted by name, citing fear of victimization, also claimed ignorance about the queries at issue.
It has become apparent that most unions are not even aware that section 48 of the Trade Union and Employers Organization Act empowers them to negotiate policies of the employers, thus the notion, “that falls within the prerogative of the employer” has become their catch word in response to media questions as to their role.