BELIZE CITY, Tues. Sept. 22, 2015–The National Assembly passed the FirstCaribbean International Bank Vesting Bill into law, allowing for FirstCaribbean to sell its assets to Heritage Bank, at a date to be announced. This transaction, however, will leave 60 employees of FirstCaribbean Bank without their jobs and now, for their sakes, it is urgent that the bank and the Christian Workers Union (CWU), which represents the bank’s employees, iron out an employees’ exit package.
Representatives of the CWU and FirstCaribbean Bank held a three-hour long meeting this afternoon at the Labour Department, where Labour Commissioner Ivan Williams acted as a mediator in brokering a scheduled negotiation between the parties.
Following the meeting, CWU president Audrey Matura Shepherd told reporters, “We had a very productive three-hour meeting and the Labour Commissioner served as mediator, I would say. We ironed out certain details and the good news is that now we are preparing to actually start negotiations. We won’t go into discussion on details what our difference is, but rather that we actually plotted a way forward and that we are looking forward to genuine good faith negotiations, especially since our employees are still adamant about knowing where they stand.”
Matura-Shepherd, after opining that the Prime Minister could have included an additional condition – that nothing could be done until the employees’ interests are addressed—in an amendment to the Vesting Act, went on to say, “… What we are doing is we are trying to negotiate in good faith to make sure we get what would be right for the workers at the end of the day. It is, we believe, that the Vesting Act is leverage for the bank already, for both banks. We can’t undo that … But from our end, the right thing for us to do is to update our members with all that has taken place, giving them details that we cannot give to you all and for us to then remain optimistic that the bank genuinely wants to ensure that when they leave Belize, they don’t leave with a bad name. And they don’t just look at the employees like oh, just another sixty employees, but sixty heads of households.”
Matura-Shepherd said that whatever they do, they have to keep the best interests of the workers at heart.
Labor Commissioner Williams told reporters, “Well, you know, at the request of the union and the management of the bank, the Labor Department was able to host a meeting today of the parties because that’s normally how it works. When the employer and the worker or the worker representative unions are having issues which they cannot discuss, then it is their right to request the services of the Labor Department. So upon that request, we were able to convene a meeting of the management of the First Caribbean Bank and the union, the Christian Workers Union.”
Williams explained, “Clearly it was a discussion where we tried to get from them what their issues are in relation to where they are in the discussions they have been having in regards to, what I understand, the bank’s intent to sell its assets and how that affects or will affect the employees in relation to the contract that exists—the employment relation that exists between the bank and its employees.”
The negotiations between the parties are scheduled to take place on September 25 and October 5, Williams disclosed.
Williams added, “They are going to sit and meet and discuss issues of common interest … A proposal from the bank in terms—for want of a better word—exit package coming from the union and a redundancy package from the bank. And so they have agreed to sit and discuss those two proposals—one a proposal and the other a counter-proposal—with a view to come to an amicable settlement with regards to what will happen to the employees.