Harare – Barclays Bank workers in Zimbabwe have taken aim at James Staley, the chief executive officer of the London-listed company, which recently announced a plan to disinvest from its Africa operations.
After merging its Africa operations with South Africa’s Absa Bank, Barclays left out the Zimbabwe and Egypt units and still controls them. However, in the past few weeks the British lender has announced a new strategy that will include disinvesting from its Africa operations, including those in Zimbabwe and Egypt.
Barclays Bank units across Africa rushed to play down the impact of this and workers showed no disgruntlement until Tuesday, when the chairperson of the workers' committee at Barclays Zimbabwe wrote to Staley, demanding assurances that the bank will dispose of its Zimbabwean interests in a responsible manner.
“We refer to our letter dated the 23rd of March 2016 wherein we highlighted the concerns of Barclays Zimbabwe employees which we expected you to address. We wish to express our utmost disappointment that you decided to delegate the response to a junior official named David Fitch, who only attempted to answer just one of the many issues we raised,” said Tawanda Mutemi, chairperson of the Barclays Bank of Zimbabwe Limited National Workers Committee.
The Zimbabwean bank workers’ fears stem from a declining economy and previous company closures that have hit the struggling country. Zimbabwe has also suffered numerous bank closures in the past few years and bank workers – whose colleagues are currently facing retrenchment at other local banks – are unsettled.
Fin24 has gathered that the UNI Global Union of bank workers has also written to Barclays, complaining about the fate of Barclays workers in Africa following the disposal of its interests in the region.
However, according to sources the bank dismissed their concerns, saying it would have discussions with local unions on a case by case basis. The Zimbabwe union of Barclays workers said the bank has not yet engaged with it.
“This leaves us with more questions than answers as to whether employees will be treated fairly in accordance with our values, or (whether) Barclays Plc is merely interested in disposing of its interest to the highest bidder and then pop(ping) some champagne to celebrate a successful deal afterwards.
"Your decision not to directly respond to employees’ concerns does not inspire confidence in us,” the representative union of the Barclays Zimbabwe workers’ committee said in the letter, seen by Fin24.
The bank’s employees said in the letter dated May 17 that they acknowledged its “right to invest and disinvest as it wishes”, but emphasised that they “also expect the bank to do so responsibly, recognising that employees are an important stakeholder whose rights and interests” cannot be ignored.
“The alarm bells we sound are not misplaced. We have had an opportunity to deal with Barclays Africa Group Limited when Zimbabwe was under its custody and we have bad memories of selective application of the Barclays values, which we think are gradually fading away.
“BAGL had the audacity to craft unfavourable policies which were uniquely targeted at Zimbabwe employees while better conditions existed elsewhere in the rest of African territories. We therefore feel justified that there could be a repeat from Barclays Plc of this deplorable behaviour, especially when the bank has taken its decision to exit this market,” read the letter.