Jan 27 , 2024

In a brewing labour dispute at Global Bank Ethiopia, tensions are on the rise as 315 employees including union leaders find themselves terminated by the management. The discord revolves around the Board of Directors' decision chaired by Bikila Hurissa to outsource certain services and concerns over unmet educational qualifications.

Formerly known as Debub Global Bank, the 12-year-old financial institution has its workers, trade union leaders and management failing to see eye to eye.

Daniel Mamo, the human resource manager, attributes the terminations to a mere preference for outsourcing and the necessity of meeting educational qualifications. The letter dispatched to employees was penned last month and was brought to the attention of the Addis Abeba Labor & Skill Bureau, the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) and Ethiopian Financial Trade Unions (IFEFTU) with efforts for mediation by labour advocates hitting a roadblock.

Union leaders are considering taking the case to court. Desta Berhe, president of the Ethiopian Financial Trade Unions, reveals that despite informing the bank management about the legal implications of terminating union leaders, a resolution remains elusive.

"Only the courts will resolve this issue," he told Fortune.

The labour dispute traces its roots back to changes made in May 2023, where amendments to working conditions and overtime payment modalities sparked grievances among workers. A union was formed in response, countered by management with a Worker's council. Despite a ruling by the Addis Ababa Labor Relation Wage Board to merge the two unions three months ago, tensions persist.

Abebe Meknonen, head of the former union, alleges that the terminations are a consequence of advocating for better working conditions.

"We were let go for attempting to bargain on behalf of workers," he said.

The city Labor & Skills Bureau received a complaint from the Global Bank's original trade union four months ago. It alleged being forced to migrate from its current union to a new one under the management's influence, failure to fork up legally stipulated monetary contributions and refusal to appear for meetings from the management side.

As the dispute escalated, a meeting comprising union leaders, employees and the Bank's management staff was called by the Bureau two weeks ago to carve out amicable terms.

Kassah Seyoum, head of the Industry Relations Directorate at the Bureau who chaired the meetings, emphasised the need to exhaust all avenues of settlement through negotiation and talks before moving up further in the legal ladder. He believes to have made a small headway towards resolving the sources of contention. But the sentiment is not shared by the Union leaders.

"The last thing we want is for them to end up in court," he said.

Global Bank managed to net 523 million Br profit for the ended year 2023. It has 2,391 employees across 152 branches. President of the Bank Tesfaye Boru (PhD) indicated that the Bank will be focusing on repositioning its brand, committed to "upskilling and reskilling employees."

Binyam Fikadu, communication director of Global Bank, dismisses the claims as a smear campaign against the Bank. He said the terminations are performance-based and part of a strategic plan to enhance efficiency by weeding out underperforming workers, which is well within its legal right.

"The claims are groundless," Binyam told Fortune.

Legal experts indicate the need to reconcile corporate decisions with workers' rights. Mehari Redae, the international law expert, affirms an employer is allowed to let any staff go to improve its efficiency, as long as the process takes place strictly adhering to the law.

"How they were let go is the source of the problem here," Mehari told Fortune.

Mehari said trade union leaders should be the last ones to be let go under the law. He suggests that court proceedings may be necessary to bring a resolution to the complex labour dispute.

As the standoff between the Global Bank of Ethiopia and labour advocates continues, the fate of the terminated employees hangs in the balance. Aregash Urisha, 39, is the sole breadwinner for her four children with 7,000 Br monthly wage. Terminated a month ago from a security guard position, she is distressed over the abrupt job losses and the financial challenges that accompany her.

"Nothing has been the same since," she said, with teary eyes.

According to Aregash, there was no performance evaluation before the termination letter. She said: "The Association was viewed as a threat from the start."

PUBLISHED ON Jan 27,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1239]

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