The Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), one of the largest banks in the country, has begun “rebalancing” its workforce to trim excess fat and brace for the challenges arising from the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“With COVID-19 presenting health risks and accelerating business transformation, we offered a number of our older tenured employees a purely voluntary early retirement package that assured them of preferential retirement terms, to allow them a smooth transition into the next phase of their lives,” said Cezar Consing, president of the Ayala Corp. subsidiary, in reply to the Inquirer’s query.

BPI had 21,429 direct employees, based on its 2019 annual report. Of the total head count, 1,286 employees were aged 50 and older.

2% of total workforce

Consing said the bank would also let go of about 30 percent of its probationary employees, or about 2 percent of BPI’s total workforce, based on the bank’s official estimate. This implied that around 428 probationary employees will be affected, based on direct hires as of end-2019.

But “a large majority” of the affected probationary employees would be absorbed by BPI’s bancassurance arm, BPI Philam Life Assurance Corp. (BPLAC), which intends to expand its distribution, digital and fintech capabilities.

In a separate statement, BPLAC chief executive officer Surendra Menon said: “With the heightened awareness for protection, we need more people for us to be able to address this huge demand. In line with this, we expect to hire most of the BPI employees who will be available for career opportunities. We are confident that they will be a great addition to our growing team and to us moving forward.”

“We thank our departing employees for their dedicated service to the bank and wish them all the best in their future,” Consing said.

But word of the plan, to take effect on July 1, initially caused some confusion among BPI employees with union officials fearing a “mass layoff” after some union members received notices of separation.

One such notice, received by an employees on May 20, said “the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an adverse disruption of business operations resulting to necessary changes in the bank’s objectives/targets.”

“The bank has also been affected by the quarantine measures imposed by the government, resulting in limited transactions and excess manpower company,” read the notice signed by Virginia Monfort, an area business director.

Harsh business climate

The notice said the bank “has to take into account the number of employees and their functions, market overlaps, duplication, automation and all other factors relevant for the bank to achieve the desired level of efficiency needed to remain viable in an increasingly competitive industry, particularly under the current harsh business climate of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The notice led union officers, including BPI Southern Luzon union president Carlito Bisa, to fear that the bank would undertake its first layoff since 2000 when the bank merged with defunct Far East Bank and Trust Co.

“In fairness, the company is not forcing anyone [to accept the separation offer]. I believe it is also giving a little more than [what’s required by the government],” Bisa said, adding that at least two employees had already accepted the package as of Friday.


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