“We, bank employees, are victims of meager wages despite the fact that the banking industry is one of the most profitable in the country,” Raymund Acenia, president of the Hongkong Bank Independent Labor Union
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA — For banking employees, their airconditioned working areas, nice uniforms and, perhaps, the mere fact that they are working in a lucrative industry, do not mean that they do not share the same plight as any other rank and file employee or Filipino worker.
“We, bank employees, are victims of meager wages despite the fact that the banking industry is one of the most profitable in the country,” Raymund Acenia, president of the Hongkong Bank Independent Labor Union, a rank and file union at the Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corporation, said.
Acenia, in an interview with Bulatlat.com, said that their meager income as rank and file employees does not keep pace with the increasing prices of staple food, transportation costs, among others.
Mark Gonzales, president of the Planters Development Bank Employees Association, a rank and file union at the Planters Development Bank where he is a credit investigator for 15 years, half wishes he could file and approve his own loan. He added that most of their members are deeply in debt, which is “ironic because we are working where the money is concentrated.”
“Our salaries do not reflect the state of our company’s earnings, considering that the banking industry is one of the most profitable industries today,” Gonzales said.
For one, a national daily reported that last year (2010) was considered as the “banner year” for the Philippine banking industry as “universal and commercial banks yielded a significant rise in profits” with a combined net income amounting to $1.94 million last year, 31 percent higher than in 2009. One of the largest banks in the country, the Metropolitan Bank and Trust Co. (Metro Bank) raked in a 39 percent growth in their net profit, which is equivalent to about $195 million. Other banks such as Union Bank and Philippine Savings Bank also declared an increase in their net income by 24 percent, or about $12.4 million, and 46 percent, or about $40.54 million, respectively.
There seems to be no end in sight yet for the continuing increasing profits of the banking industry as Nestor Espenilla Jr., deputy governor of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, said in a report.
Yet, banking employees such as Acenia and Gonzales could not help but wonder what the future holds for them as outsourcing and contractualization threats continue to loom, especially with the BSP Circular No. 268 and its succeeding circulars.
The BSP Circular No. 268 lists the positions and functions that can be outsourced, as approved by the Monetary Board.
“No bank or any director, officer, employee, or agent thereof shall outsource inherent banking functions,” Section 2.1 of the said circular read. Subject to prior approval of the Monetary Board, however, “banks may outsource all information technology systems and processes.”
The circular further stipulated in its Section 4 that with the prior approval of the Monetary Board, more positions and/or functions may be outsourced such as “data imaging, storage, retrieval and other related systems; clearing and processing of checks not included in the Philippine Clearing House System; printing of bank deposit statements…credit card services; printing of bank loan statements and other non-deposit records, bank forms and promotional materials; credit investigation and collection; processing of export, import and other trading transactions; transfer agent services for debt and equity securities; property appraisal; property management services; messenger, courier and postal services; security guard services; vehicle service contracts; janitorial services; and such other activities as may be determined by the Monetary Board.”
“Why did the government allow this (circular to be implemented) when it should, instead, uplift the lives of the people?” Acenia said. He added that outsourcing would only propagate contractualization among the ranks of the labor force.
Should contractualization and outsourcing intensify in the banking industry, Acenia said, this would translate to cheap labor amid the increasing net profits of the country’s leading banks. In a way, he added, that the circular also attacks union organizing by, in effect, lessening the number of regular employees who are union members.
Acenia said that a stronger union is what they need to “consolidate and align their efforts” in fighting for their labor rights in the face of outsourcing and global economic downturns that affect the banking industry, among others.
“We know what is provided in the law and that prompted us to form a union (years ago). We need a strong front when facing the management especially during collective bargaining negotiations where our union have set a benchmark for the management in favor of the welfare of the employees,” Acenia said. He added that their company is known in the banking industry for their “superior” sick leave benefits.
The Planters Development Bank Employees Association, on the other hand, which just had their CBA last September to November 2010, said that they were able to demand for a wage increase, amounting to $81 for those belonging in the higher wage bracket of their salary grades.
“We also called for the protection of the rank and file against the merging of banks, where, most of the time, regular employees are fired under the new management,” Gonzales said, adding that while there is no news on whether their bank is planning to merge with another bank, “It is good to be prepared because there is always that possibility.”
Organizing the banking employees to join the union is difficult in its own ways. “As most employees in banking or in other industries, they applied for work because they need their respective salaries every 15th and 30th of the month,” Gonzales said, “But educating them further on their rights has emancipated them.”
But above all these, Acenia said that it is the “premium” and “collective” voice of the union that their members are enjoying. In times of crisis, he said the union collectively voices out the concerns of their members, which is by far stronger than a simple individual speaking for himself.
“Before I was indifferent to the calls of the workers every Labor Day. I kept on asking myself why they had to go out and march on the streets. Until I became a worker myself and experienced why there is a need to go out and show your outrage,” Acenia said, “You do not get your rights for free. You fight for it.”
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I admire the courage and dedication of union organizers. Their efforts benefit everyone in the workplace, including those who are not members. Let’s extend solidarity to all unions, here and abroad. An injury to one is an injury to all!
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