KUALA LUMPUR, July 7 — HSBC Malaysia is allegedly forcing its employees here to leave the bank through the Voluntary Separation Scheme (VSS) despite the scheme's voluntary nature, National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) has claimed.
NUBE general secretary J. Solomon claimed that HSBC employees affected by the VSS scheme come from the "senior lowest-income group" and that they are replaced at the same time by new hires.
"Though HSBC claims it is voluntary, on the contrary those who refuse to opt for the VSS are being threatened and intimidated by forcing them to accept the VSS or be subjected to vindictive transfers," he claimed.
He claimed that an active NUBE representative in the bank, identified as T. Sethupaty, was given the VSS letter on February 13 but refused to accept the offer.
This union representative was then allegedly issued with a transfer letter to a bank branch 60km away from his current workplace, and was then directed to hand over his work and turn up this month at his new workplace despite not having consented to the transfer, he said.
The bank is also purportedly outsourcing Sethupaty's job functions to a company which operates from the bank's premises, he said.
"Despite the worker’s appeal against the arbitrary transfer on critical health condition among others, the bank is adamant to implement the transfer.
"We hope the victimisation does not affect his health, he needs the employment and will not leave the company. He is also not willing to succumb to the victimisation done through the transfer. Anyway why should he leave?” Solomon asked.
Solomon said over 230 employees from HSBC have been laid off through two VSS exercises — one early last year and one in February 2017.
Those who left via VSS range from ages of around 30 to 45 years old and are "long-serving non-executive workers comprising of drivers, messengers, clerks and special grade clerks", he said.
He said over 80 per cent of HSBC's employees are NUBE members, adding that a collective agreement (CA) covers all non-executive staff in HSBC regardless of whether they belong to the union.
The collective agreement is between NUBE and the Malayan Commercial Banks Association (MCBA) of which HSBC is a member of, he said, adding that it would be legally binding on HSBC.
He named the five terms of the collective agreement that HSBC had allegedly breached, namely Articles 4(2), 6, 14(4), 15(3), and 16(4).
Among other things, he claimed that the bank has refused to engage with NUBE despite the requirement for it to be recognised as the sole negotiating body for employees who are also union workers, adding that it had also breached the mandatory requirement for consultations before outsourcing NUBE members' job functions.
He claimed that the CA was also breached when the bank did not consult Sethupaty to seek consent for the transfer and the latter only found out through a letter, adding that the bank allegedly failed to notify NUBE members about available vacancies in the bank as required.
Malay Mail Online has contacted HSBC for a response but was unsuccessful.
Solomon indicated that the alleged misuse of VSS is a wider industry issue, arguing that this scheme should not be practiced.
"It's the bullying of long serving workers with the intention of getting rid of them.
"Due to poor regulation and condonation on the part of BNM and Ministry of Human Resources, some Banks are abusing the use of VSS," he said.
"The VSS which was supposed to be voluntary has now become a form of forced laying off senior workers causing unemployment of these seniors. Eventually this will result in eroding livelihood of these workers who do not have adequate social protection," he said, adding that most workers take the VSS for fear of uncertainty.
Solomon urged for the authorities to urgently intervene, saying that the Human Resources Ministry should take stern action on banks that allegedly "create unjustified unemployment in order to prevent job losses" and victimise workers.
"BNM and MOF should be vigilant and stop unilateral outsourcing and should engage the Union when giving blanket approval to Banks which will have negative impact on workers,” he said, referring to the central bank and the Finance Ministry.
According to the Human Resources Ministry's written parliamentary replies from the October-November 2016 meeting, employees can either have their services terminated through contract termination by employers or go through the VSS method where their offer to leave will be accepted along with typically higher compensation granted.
According to the ministry's Labour Market Database, 51.67 per cent or 19,891 of the 38,499 retrenched in 2015 took the VSS route, while 45.8 per cent or 14,425 of the 31,476 retrenched in the January-September 2016 period left via VSS.
The manufacturing industry recorded the highest number of retrenchments when compared to other sectors in 2013, 2014 and in the January-September 2016 period, the ministry said.
The finance and insurance sector which in 2013 and 2014 accounted for only 462 out of 33,086 and 122 out of 25,917 retrenchments, shot up to be the most-affected sector in 2015 with 17,628 out of 38,499 retrenchments or 45.79 per cent, which then fell to third place during January-September 2016 at 4,424 or 14 per cent of 31,476.