BELIZE CITY, Thurs., Oct. 15, 2015–The staff of First Caribbean International Bank (FCIB) countrywide staged another in a series of protests last week, on Friday afternoon during their lunch break, as negotiations between the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and the Bank’s management has failed to reach an exit package settlement deal in the wake of the sale of the bank’s assets to Heritage Bank and the government’s passage of the FCIB’s vesting bill which finalized the sale.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, president of the union, confirmed that the FCIB’s management finally met with them on Tuesday, October 13, to begin the negotiation process. Matura-Shepherd added that talks are scheduled to continue next week Tuesday. It is hoped that these negotiations will be able to secure an adequate exit package for the staff and also ensure that two major changes relevant to the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) are made.
Matura-Shepherd said, “The FCIB’s staff is appalled at the utmost bad-faith that the bank has shown.” Matura-Shepherd went on to say that there isn’t any truth in the release the FCIB’s management published in the October 11, 2015 issue of this paper.
According to the release, the Bank feels that their efforts to reach an agreement for “a fair and reasonable” exit package for their employees has been “thwarted” by the leadership of the Union Audrey Matura-Shepherd. Meanwhile Matura-Shepherd said it is utmost disrespect for the bank to send out a release claiming that the staff is being misled by the leadership of the Union. Matura-Shepherd went on to say that they have not compelled their workers to take any particular position; instead it is the workers who decide upon the necessary action.
A press release dated October 9 that was sent out by the Christian Workers Union (CWU) stated, “The employees would like to advise that all the decisions taken by CWU has been in consultation with the membership and not unilaterally done by the union as previously suggested.”
The FCIB’s release referred to the meeting held between the Union and the Bank mediated by the Labour Commissioner, Mr. Ivan Williams, where it was established that negotiations between both parties would begin on 28 September and continue on 5 October, 2015. According to the FCIB’s release such negotiations never took place since the Bank had requested that the Union remove the notice of strike action in compliance with the international standards for bilateral negotiations, but the Union refused to withdraw its notice of strike action.
According to Matura-Shepherd the notice is in accord with Sections 11 & 15 of the Essential Services Act, which by law protects employees. Matura-Shepherd said removing such a notice will allow the workers to be vulnerable to management’s bad intentions; for example, she said, without the notice in place, management would be at liberty to fire an employee without giving him any benefits to which he would otherwise have been entitled. Section 11 & 15 of the Essential Services Act basically states that where there is a dispute, the minister should be notified. Furthermore, where industrial actions need to be taken, there must be a 21-day notice.
Matura-Shepherd said that they told the FCIB’s management that they will not remove the notice; in return FCIB’s management said they are unable to remove the vesting act.
Matura-Shepherd said there isn’t any progress being made in their efforts at negotiations. Matura-Shepherd added that they were hoping to negotiate two major changes in the CBA and the employees’ exit package since “the bank is leaving for good and their staff will be left without a job”. She said that they have not been told the date the bank is leaving Belize, but one thing is for sure, she said: time is running out and the employees’ exit package has not been settled.
The CWU’s press release stated that the employees of the bank have been multi-tasking and working long hours all in an effort to save their job, however, their best efforts cannot override FCIB’s bad management which has resulted in a decline in business, she said.
CWU’s press release went on to say that the looming job loss that will be created by the exit of FCIB will have far-reaching effects, since the employees will be unable to pay their loans with the bank, leading to default, and then the foreclosure and repossession of their assets, all of which will affect their families and community.