About 100 staffs of the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) are facing severe exploitation and unfair treatment from the company in total disregard of our labour laws and human rights. For more than a week now, GTB has indefinitely suspended 8 members of staff for merely writing to the management to seek an audience to discuss basic conditions of work. The company is now threatening to sack up to 100 other staffs for demanding that the company brings back their colleagues. They have been on a sit-down strike since July 20. How can a company sack its staff members for merely asking for a discussion? This is a clear abuse of power and violation of freedom of expression, which must not go unchecked.
The concerned staffs include tellers, customer care and marketing officers. Since their appointment, some for up to four years and more, these people have never enjoyed salary increment. They do not have any health insurance. They have never been promoted. Yet they work from Monday to Saturday – 6 days a week on a salary that is less than seven thousand dalasi and enjoy only 15 days annual leave.
What is even more dubious is that even though they applied to GTB, which also conducted their interviews, yet these staffs carry an employment letter of another company called Xsell and not GTB. But this Xsell ‘company’ has no staff policy or anything to do with these staffs again. The staffs only work at GTB and are supposed to abide by GTB staff rules. Why would GTB announce vacancies and when individuals apply and undergo an interview only for another company to give them an employment letter and not GTB itself? Therefore the Labour Office must investigate this matter to determine the arrangement between GTB and Xsell so as to ensure that Gambian workers are not exploited.
Furthermore the employment letter from Xsell classifies these people only as ‘Temporary Worker’. What is a ‘Temporary Worker’? How can one be a temporary worker when such a worker can be employed in one company for years without any promotion or any incentive with a poor salary? Yet the Xsell employment letter demands that this ‘Temporary Worker’ must give a deposit so that when one encounters any financial loss it is paid back from the deposit!
The Labour Act requires that a probationary period must not exceed 12 months under Section 51(1), yet these staffs have been in their position for more than three years. They have not been confirmed as permanent staff and the employment letter did not also specify the length of contract. It only categorizes them as ‘Temporary Worker’.
The Gambia Workers Union, GCCI, Banker’s Association as well as the Labour Office must therefore look into this matter at GTB and Xsell to ensure that our private sector does not become a place of exploitation and abuse of the rights of workers. In fact it is necessary that the Government review the entire labour laws as well as fully empower the Labour Office to effectively enforce the law. We have many companies within the private sector that do not employ workers in the correct manner as per the labour laws. They do not provide the full benefits to their workers while they overwork our young men and women and pay them pittance. These unfair situations can be found in banks, insurance companies, petroleum companies, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants as well as estate agencies among others.
GTB is one of the leading banks in the Gambia that has won several GCCI awards and consistently registers huge profits annually. Yet the very rank and file who produce these successes are being exploited and underpaid with impunity. This cannot and must not continue. Until we bring fair play and fair wages into our private sector, we cannot defeat poverty and ensure vibrant economic growth. Companies must not only make super profits, but such profits must also trickle down to their staffs that make those profits possible.
I therefore demand that the Labour Office, GCCI, Bankers Association and the Gambia Workers Union to urgently engage GTB in order to protect the rights and welfare of workers. All Gambians and clients of GTB in particular must stand up with the affected staffs and demand that the bank respect and protect the rights and welfare of its workers. At the moment GTB is employing all kinds of terror tactics in order to force the affected staffs to succumb to their deplorable working conditions. For the first time this month, the bank has withheld half of their salaries as punishment. In fact the bank is threatening to sack them claiming they have hundreds of applications to choose.
I wish to advise the affected staffs to realize that unity is their strength. They must stand together knowing that this is a noble battle they have embarked upon. When they succeed then they would have inspired and saved themselves as well as current and future workers in our private sector from abuse and exploitation. The bank will try to divide and conquer them by bribing or pressurizing some of their colleagues to abandon them. But no one should be fooled to think that by abandoning their colleagues and siding with the bank will secure their interests. When you betray sacred principles and comrades, sooner than later you will face the severe consequences.
The affected staffs must therefore remain united and steadfast and engage all relevant stakeholders such as the Workers Union, GCCI, Bankers Association, the Labour Office and the media. They can also write a petition to the Office of the President as well as to the Minister responsible for trade and employment and the Minister of Finance to express their grievances and seek redress. Finally they can go to the Industrial Tribunal if need be. All these are options to explore in unity with determination.
God Bless The Gambia