Hardly three months into his new job as Barclays Bank of Botswana Limited Managing Director, Wilfred Mpai is already on a collision course with the bank’s employees who accuse him of implementing a retrenchment exercise under the guise of non-performance.
A number of employees have already been arraigned for hearing where they have been charged with under or non-performance, which is feared would ultimately result in their dismissals.
The workers and their union, Botswana Bank Employees Union (BOBEU), have not taken kindly to the ensuing hearings and on Friday suffered a major blow when the Botswana Police Service refused them permission to demonstrate and hand a petition to Barclays bank executive management.
Information turned up by Sunday Standard is that the bank is in the process of retrenching a third of its workforce but is cautious not to implement an expensive exercise which could hurt the bank’s annual financial performance.
A concerned bank employee who was not authorized to talk to this newspaper said it is an open secret that the bank has embarked on a retrenchment exercise.
“Fearing the cost implications of the exercise, the bank’s management has resorted to underhand tactics in which it is accusing workers of underperformance. If we are under performing, why has the bank’s net profit not declined in the past year and the first six months of the current financial year?” asked the employee.
Another employee who preferred not to be named added: “We are not opposed to retrenchment for as long as it is implemented in accordance with the country’s labour laws. To target a few employees and fire them under guise of non-performance in order to avoid paying an exit or separation package is evil. All we want is fair play. When we joined the bank it was never our intention to remain there eternally. All we need is to be fairly ejected and paid what is due to us and then carry on with our lives.”
Another employee has warned Mpai to tread carefully in handling staff grievances.
“He seems to easily forget that he survived by a whisker when his predecessor, Thulisizwe Johnson, was forced to unceremoniously terminate his service with the bank. Mpai was part and parcel of the whole mess that led to Johnson’s downfall although the man decided to bear the brunt alone. If he thinks we are not watching, he is in for a big shock. Once we spill the beans, he will realize how he has mishandled staff grievances. We had thought he would be mindful of what happened to his predecessor but he just seems not to care. He is literally digging his own grave,” said the concerned employee.
It is not only the junior staff that the bank has targeted in its restructuring exercise. In April, the bank notified its managers that it was implementing a merging exercise between branch operations and retail in order to improve efficiency.
At the time, fears abounded that at least 40 managers’ jobs were on the line.
The bank then notified the managers and their union – Barclays Management Staff Union (BAMSU) of the merging exercise, thereby reverting to the previous structure prior to the branch operations and retail split of 2008.
Under the new structure or merger, the bank said it was reverting to the old system where both operations and retail teams reported to one branch manager as opposed to the current system where there is an operations and retail manager assigned to one branch.
In a letter dated 4th April 2011, Head of Human Resources, Joy-Marie Marebole advised the union of the bank’s decision explaining that the decision was taken after feedback from customers and colleagues on the inefficiency of the recurrent structure and its negative impact on customer service.
“This is a key priority under the transformation of the business to ensure that we continue to deliver value in our service to our customers. Implementation of the branch unification (Retail and Core-Branch Operations) will be effected from 1st May 2011. This move will ensure that organization structures ably deliver the strategic goals of the organization as well as demonstrate a clear contribution to adding value to organizational goals,” read Marebole’ letter in part.
She explained in the letter that through the organization design, some managerial roles would not exist on the “Go to” structure due to the merger, adding that individuals would be advised accordingly and given opportunities to be assessed for new roles given the combination of retail and operations portfolio.
The merger sparked fears of prospective job losses in the event that the assessed managers failed to qualify for new roles under the merger.
“It is quite clear that if the merger is implemented, the separation of management of retail and operations would render one of the managers redundant in a given branch and if under assessment cannot be deployed, he would then be retrenched. Competition for the few existing posts would be very stiff and it is very likely that at least half of the managers would be shown the door if they cannot be absorbed under any new roles,” a manager had then said.
Although the police refused the union to demonstrate and hand the petition to Barclays Bank executive management, BOBEU chairman Jason Chakalisa said they had appealed the police decision.
“The police felt the time slot we had asked was a peak hour for them and as such would not be able to avail us the patrol staff. We will, however, appeal their decision as the petition still stands relevant and needs to be delivered to Barclays bank. We chose the time between 6 am and 7:45 am so that we would be able to disperse in time to go to work. We didn’t want our demonstration to interfere with the employer’s time of work,” said Chakalisa.