Windhoek — After marathon negotiations on wage and salary increments First National Bank (FNB) Namibia and the Namibia Bank Workers Union (NBWU) finally signed a settlement agreement on Wednesday this week.
The settlement was reached at a conciliation meeting with the Office of the Labour Commissioner. The two sides reached a deadlock in late July and referred the matter to the Office of the Labour Commissioner for conciliation. In the meantime, the union made it categorically clear that a nation-wide strike of all FNB Employees was imminent if the conciliation effort were to fail.
FNB Namibia employs about 1 900 people, of which 1 500 were affected by the negotiations. Even though the two parties had earlier reached an understanding on a wage and salary increment based on an inflation adjustment of between 6 and 7 percent, the bank balked at the union demand for N$750 in rental allowances for employees who do not qualify for the existing housing and transport allowances, as well as 100 percent medical aid coverage.
This week the two parties agreed to an average increase of about 8 percent on the negotiated portion and 12 percent if FNB Namibia group's discretionary payments are included. They also agreed that FNB Namibia increase medical aid benefit contributions to 65 percent in the current financial year, and 70 percent in the next financial year, thus reaching and maintaining a 30/70 ration.
Days before the conciliation meeting the union increased its rhetoric accusing FNB Namibia of negotiating in bad faith and of maintaining a master/servant attitude, while repeating its commitment to carry out the threats of a nationwide strike in case of the failure of conciliation efforts.
Desie Heita from New Era met with FNB Namibia Holdings Chief Executive Officer Advocate Vekuii Rukoro for a brief interview after the successful conciliation meeting.
FNB Namibia met with the Union (NBWU) for conciliation talks, which ended successfully. What does this agreement mean for FNB and its employees?
FNB is widely admired as an employer of choice. This does not come about by treating or remunerating staff poorly. It must be kept in mind that, as much as some FNB employees are members of the NBWU others prefer not to join the union. Whether they are union members or not, they remain our employees and all receive the same treatment. The relationship between FNB and the union is governed by a recognition agreement. The settlement agreement reached at [Wednesday] conciliation meeting is a true win-win one. What this means is that staff [members] get a fair and reasonable increase and benefit improvements, which was always the intention of both parties."
According to information in the joint statement, the agreement between FNB and the union is more or less what the union was demanding in the first place. Why did the matter have to go for conciliation for the bank to concede in the end?
Negotiation is a process of give and take, which often needs an independent person to assist the parties to reach a final agreement. The union's opening demand was a 23 percent overall increase and accepted 8 percent on the negotiated portion. If FNB's discretionary payment is included, which was not negotiated, the average increase would have been 12 percent. It must be kept in mind that inflation which is currently at 5.6 percent and FNB's performance, as well as the market, guide salary increments. Neither the union nor FNB ended at their opening positions. The union had to drop its demand for transport and rental allowances and reduce its demand for a 100 percent medical aid contribution for its members, while FNB conceded only on the medical aid payment by increasing it from the current 54 percent employer's contribution to 65 percent for the current financial year and 70 percent for the next financial year, where it will be capped. However, both parties agreed that they are satisfied with the final agreement.
Did FNB only yield during the conciliation meeting, because you feared the nationwide strike, as threatened by the union?
As stated all along, FNB has the utmost confidence in its employees and although a strike can never be ruled out, FNB settled on a deal that we believe is fair, not because we were threatened by our staff. As a trusted employer our staff were in constant contact with us and voiced their disappointment and concern over the fact that the company's good name was being tarnished by the media reports originating from the union, which they did not support. FNB stated time and again that any mention of a strike was pre-mature and was never too worried that our staff would resort to such drastic industrial action, since the offers we made were always reasonable.
The union has been very vocal in their perception of FNB's handling of the concerns of the employees, not only with the wage negotiations but in general with the purported master/servant attitude of the bank; looking down on local experienced employees in favour of expatriates and so forth. Has FNB ever taken into account seriously those concerns or has the union failed to bring those concerns to your attention as management?
This is strange since FNB only has three expatriates out of a total staff compliment of more than 1 900 people. It is highly unlike that such small number of senior employees will be able to behave in a manner that is contradictory to FNB's values. Even our Exco and board are made up of a vast majority of Namibians. I am not sure you are referring to FNB Namiba. FNB has formal and informal channels for employees to submit comments and suggestions and these are considered and implemented almost on a daily basis. It must be appreciated that not all comments and suggestions are always practical. As a matter of fact, FNB has a formalised campaign whereby [the] staff is encouraged to log innovations and to win substantial amounts of money for successful innovations annually. The few [staff members] that may in fact not be performing well are exposed to a process to improve their performance or, if this process fails, are removed from the organisation following the prescribed legal processes. In a very competitive environment, no organisation that employs unproductive staff will survive, let alone grow. FNB is not as successful as it is because we have unproductive staff. This is simply not true. It is not FNB's approach to discuss staff matters in public and it seems as if a few disgruntled employees or former employees are trying to pick a bone with FNB through the media. FNB follows an open door policy through all levels of management and has proper internal processes and procedures to deal with such issues should it be necessary. We are a local financial services group, listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange, run by Namibians for Namibians. It needs to be restated that FNB will not have been as successful as we are if the allegations were true.
How would FNB describe its current relationship with its employees and with the union?
FNB always had, and continues to have excellent relations with our employees. The relationship with the union is professional and is governed by an official recognition agreement.
If anything, what lessons has FNB learnt from these negotiations?
What was reconfirmed is that it is always best to be true to the company's value system, to treat others with respect and not to allow emotions to take control, for example by trying to negotiate in public, which practice is not condoned by the recognition agreement and our staff.
Any other comments you wish to make?
FNB Namibia will continue to be Namibia's oldest, biggest and most respected financial services group by being a preferred employer and rendering the best products and services to our clients in a helpful manner.