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Absa lays off IT staff

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Despite repeated denials that big-four bank Absa would embark on a retrenchment exercise, as many as 140 IT employees will be out of a job in just under a month, after the bank's human resources department sent out retrenchment e-mails.

Absa's letters follow a move earlier this year in which the bank redeployed 1 600 staff members in its group IT division, telling them to reapply for positions across the company's operations as it reorganises the department.

In February, about 200 staff, who were not placed, were escorted out of the building, carrying their possessions in boxes. At the end of March, about 145 of Absa's IT staff members were still on gardening leave, while the bank attempted to assist them in finding new jobs.

The bank has repeatedly stated there would be no “mass” job cuts. However, ITWeb is in possession of a retrenchment letter and trade union Solidarity says the bulk of the people who were sent on so-called “fishing leave” are now being retrenched.

No luck

Absa's e-mailed letter, sent to affected people on Monday, is headed 'Confirmation of retrenchment' and gives staff a day to fill in paperwork. “Following the restructuring process and the consultations held with you and [finance union] Sasbo, we confirm that your reassignment period is ending on 13 May 2012,” states the letter.

“Since no viable alternative position could be found for you in the course of the three-month reassignment period, we confirm that you will be retrenched with effect from 9 June 2012.”

In February, Absa said its reassignment programme did “not amount to retrenchments, as affected employees are given the opportunity to apply for positions across the group”. It said “through developments in technology and processes, we continuously seek to improve output, while reducing duplication”.

The re-application for jobs is in line with its “programme of integration with the rest of Africa and the efficiencies that derive from this process,” it said in February.

Solidarity deputy general-secretary Dirk Hermann has said about 500 IT staff are expected to be trimmed from the bank's contractor and employee base when it has finished the realignment process.

Accusations mount

Solidarity spokesman Marius Croucamp says the bulk of the people who were on “fishing leave” are being retrenched. He says the union is also investigating claims of intimidation, as some members have said they have been forced to quit rather than receive packages.

“This just adds onto a charge sheet against Absa.”

Solidarity currently has eight cases at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in which Absa staff are alleging that they have been unfairly dismissed in the retrenchment process, says Croucamp. While these staff members come from across the group, at least one is a former Gijima employee who was moved to Absa, he adds.

On 1 April, 270 former Gijima employees joined the bank, after it took half of a R960 million desktop support deal in-house. The next day, the bank sent letters to the former Gijima staff telling them to select a post within the new structure.

Croucamp says the first CCMA matter will go to arbitration within the next three weeks.

No comment

Absa declined to respond to specific questions regarding how many people were retrenched and whether it had done an about-turn. Its only comment is: “Absa has communicated extensively on the matter and has nothing further to add”.

In March, Fergus Marupen, Absa group human resources executive, told ITWeb that about 40 staff out of the initial 200 staff members placed on leave had either resigned or have been placed elsewhere. Marupen was confident that most of the 145 staff members would find new posts.

Sasbo assistant general-secretary Comfort Duma says affected employees should contact the union so it can take the matter up with the bank.

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