KARACHI, Aug 7: Hundreds of bank and other financial institution employees have been transferred, retired, sent on forced leave, retrenched and offered the golden handshake even while their union offices have been closed over the last few months, bank union leaders have claimed.
The union leaders from Habib Bank, Muslim Commercial Bank, Allied Bank and foreign banks interviewed by Dawn maintained that the insertion of Section 27-B, Ordinance LVII of 1962 passed by the National Assembly on May 26, ahead of the privatization of banks, had been a blow to trade union activity – setting back its most active component in the banking sector.
Section 27 B states: “No officer or member of a trade union in a banking company shall use any bank facilities, including a car or telephone, to promote trade union activities… or carry on trade union activities during office hours… nor shall he be a person who is not an employee of the banking company in question.” According to the union leaders, who claim to have lost contact with one another after the closure of the offices, the Services Tribunals (Amendment) Act 1997 had further prevented them from having access to the labour courts, appellate courts or the National Industrial Relations Council, with all labour disputes now to be sent to the Services Tribunal.
“We are expecting the worst after August 14, when there will be retrenchment and the golden handshake will be offered to bank employees ahead of privatization,” said Habibuddin Junaidi, president of Habib Bank General Workers Front Pakistan. Foreign Banks Employees Federation president Mohammed Ajab Khan, secretary-general Mohammed Saghir and finance secretary Farrukh Saleem Khan told Dawn that already the foreign banks, Al Mashriq, Bank of America, Standard Chartered, Hongkong Shanghai and ANZ Grindlays banks had retrenched 30 per cent personnel, foremost amongst them being peons and security guards and replaced their services by personnel from private companies.
Foreign banks union leaders said they had refused to comply with government instructions to vacate union offices and had, instead, filed a writ petition against evacuation in the high court. Muslim Commercial Bank union general secretary Saeed Ghani alleged that while hundreds of employees had been transferred from the MCB (where only 780 out of 14,000 employees were opting for the golden handshake, “pocket unions” were being promoted by the management in a clear cut example of unfair labour practices. At the same time, the union leaders alleged that a number of collective bargaining agents (CBAs) has been bought over by the management. Saeed Ghani, who was in the forefront of the campaign launched during March/April by the Federal Organisation of Bank Employees and Financial Institutions (FOBFI) led by Mohammed Ali Memon of Habib Bank Employees Union (CBA), told Dawn that the top leadership of FOBFI had since advised his MCB union not to go on strike.
While trade union activity is in doldrums, its scattered leadership sharply criticized the government’s appointments of non-technical bank presidents and executive vice presidents “with fantastic salaries” as well as the discretionary powers given to banking heads to advance millions of rupees in loans – “part of which are being used as advances to finance their personal businesses.”
Mushtaq Ahmed Khan Changezi, secretary-general of Habib Bank Progressive Officers Union, alleged that while more than Rs1 billion had been given out in loans by Habib Bank during the last three-four months, only a tiny percentage of the Rs34 billion HBL loans had been returned by defaulters. As a result of the lack of success in recovering defaulter loans, the government had extended the deadline for Habib Bank until September 5, union leaders said.
Mr Junaidi blamed past governments, bureaucrats, bank managements and union leaders for their collective “corruption and incompetence” in bringing banks to the present state of financial ruin. He demanded that while all those who had contributed to the decline of the banks and DFIs should be brought to trial and the “working class should not be victimized.”
In particular, the Workers Front president called for a referendum in Habib Bank. According to him, while the Habib Bank unions had played a leading role in trade union movements from 1974 uptill today, any deviation by the CBAs could only be blamed on the government’s failure to hold referendum since the last four years.