Absa tried to 'force out' employees

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Big four bank Absa tried to demote almost 200 IT staff and prevent them from receiving bonuses or pay hikes, until it was prevented from doing so last week by a union.

ITWeb is in possession of a mail sent late last year by Absa's Africa CIO, Alpesh Patel, to the IT leadership team, in which he says the bottom 10% of IT staff should be forced into a lower rank.

The mail, sent out in November, states the leadership team needs to make sure 10% of their “population” is in C and D ranks. “Remember, this is a forced rank exercise and, therefore, you must have this 10% of your populations.”

Patel writes: “The bottom 10% cannot be making a difference to our organisation and deliveries. They drag down the rest of the organisation.”

The mail, which has since been retracted, says these staff members will not receive a bonus or a pay rise, and any endeavour to increase their salaries will be “swiped off centrally”.

No way

Comfort Duma, assistant general secretary of financial union Sasbo, says “it's illegitimate. It's a direct violation of the bank's policy.”

Duma says the e-mail was only retracted last week, after the union forced Absa to withdraw it. He says the forced ranking was never implemented, as Sasbo had been in talks with Absa since early this year in a bid to get it to retract the mail. The D rank is essentially seen as a grading for poor performers, explains Duma.

Forcing out?

lvan lsraelstam, CE of Labour Law Management Consulting, says, based on the available facts, the mail could indicate an attempt by the bank to force some of its staff out, instead of following a retrenchment process.

Last month, ITWeb revealed the bank had told all its 1 600 IT staff to reapply for their jobs. Almost 200 of those that were not successful were escorted off the premises and put on gardening leave, pending the results of its reassignment process.

Absa has repeatedly denied it will retrench any employees, although staff have accused it of planning to get rid of a number of workers.

Israelstam says, while forced ranking is not commonplace, he has seen it happen before. He says it is legal, as long as the company can prove it does so legitimately and with sufficient reasons. Companies would have to prove that the staff are genuinely not performing at the required level and there is no guarantee of a bonus or salary increase, lsraelstam adds.

No clarity

Absa's only comment to several questions posed by ITWeb is: “Absa employee rankings are based on performance, as outlined in our human resources policies. Rankings are not forced.”

Trade union Solidarity has publicly challenged the bank's CEO, Maria Ramos, to either deny rumours of large-scale retrenchments at the bank, or clarify how many people could be affected if Absa plans to cut jobs.

In a statement, the union says a source told it that Barclays, which owns a majority stake in Absa, told the local bank to retrench to save costs.

Deputy general secretary Dirk Hermann says: “Thousands of Absa employees are faced with a great deal of uncertainty over their future at the bank.”

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