Letters — 15 September 2015
“PM Barrow has gone to bat for the ‘big-boys!’”

September 14, 2015

Dear Editor,

    I write as President of the Christian Workers Union to make some basic facts clear regarding the plight of the 60 workers of First Caribbean International Bank (FCIB).  This is especially necessary in light of the fact that now even the Minister of Finance, Hon. Dean Barrow, has shown an apparent lack of interest in addressing the concerns of the workers.

    Firstly, it was impossible to negotiate an exit package with FCIB one year ago, because one year ago, although the Bank knew it was seeking buyers and even began discussions with its current purchasers, there was no way the employees could have known with certainty that there would be a sale and closure of the bank and come September 2015, they would be out of a job.

   Secondly, to distract from the issue at hand, the government propagandists and the bank interests, have teamed up to say that FCIB employees failed to re-negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

    This intentional focus on the CBA instead of the exit package, does not speak to the fact that from early 2014 at its first meeting with FCIB management at which a timeline for new CBA negotiations was discussed FCIB knew its plans in Belize were no longer long-term.

    At said meeting, if management wants to be honest, it was noted that CWU informed FCIB that the earliest they could even start to discuss matters surrounding a CBA would be June 2014, at which time not even FCIB was preoccupied with a new CBA, because the old one carries over and remains valid until a new one is negotiated.

    There is absolutely no correspondence from FCIB to CWU prior to June 2015, when the sale was almost a done deal, in which FCIB showed an interest to negotiate a CBA. Management seemed very nonchalant about a CBA until they began to realize that the sale of FCIB would have required them showing that they have been diligent in addressing this matter.

    Thirdly, I opine that it was not until June 2015 that FCIB began to press about meeting for the negotiations of a CBA, at which time its sale to Heritage Bank was being closed. Prior to that, CWU had already informed them that it was not until the end of April 2015 that a draft CBA would be presented and there were no objections and in May 2015 the draft CBA was presented.

    Of course by then they knew they were selling and really all the time spent ironing out issues such as grievances, overtime, leave, etc… was really a waste of time since at the end of the day all that would have mattered was what employees get upon termination.  The only reason I opine they insist still to focus on the CBA, is that it serves as a distraction and maybe Heritage Bank wants to know what kind of implications Section 43 of the Trade Unions and Employers’ Organisations  (Registration, Recognition and Status) CAP 304 would have on them.  It reads as follows:

    43.-(1) If any employer sells a part of his business, undertaking or company, or otherwise leases, transfers or disposes of such part or the whole of the business, undertaking or company:

    (a) the purchaser, lessee or transferee shall be bound by all pending proceedings made under this Act in respect of the business, undertaking or company before such purchase, lease, transfer or disposition;

    (b) any collective bargaining agreement entered into by the employer which is in force shall continue to apply and bind the purchaser, lessee or transferee, until it expires or is repealed and replaced by a new collective bargaining agreement.

    Now, CWU has copied the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance into correspondences regarding this issue since July 2015 and has addressed two letters to him and to date he has not replied to any.  At the end of the day CWU on behalf of the 60 employees of FCIB is not asking for the sale to be stopped, but rather for the Prime Minister, not to facilitate the bad faith tactics of FCIB, which is refusing to address the most pressing issue, i.e. the exit package of the workers, since at this stage the CBA is a nullity.

    Finally, let the record show that if a CBA had even been negotiated a year ago, it would have been done in the spirit and belief by workers that there would still be FCIB operating in Belize and long-term prospects of a job.  The fact that FCIB is exiting Belize changes the face of any negotiations, the focus of any negotiations, the nature of any negotiations and the demands of the employees.

    It is clear in my view that the Prime Minister of the country has gone to bat for the “big-boys,” not the 60 workers and citizens of this Jewel.  It is good that he showed his hand and that he could not help himself and exercise restraint in the personal attacks.  But the focus and reality we are facing is that there are 60 heads of households who will join the ranks of the unemployed. Their loans with their employer form 50% of the loan portfolio bought by Heritage Bank.  Without a job they are not able to meet monthly payments of these loans and other basic expenses.

    However, the only side of the story that seems to matter to those who control power and make these big deals, is the side that does not humanize the reality of the workers.  Sadly, CWU cannot turn to seek proper redress from the Labour Department because a simple response to a letter sent since July, 2015, on this issue is not forthcoming.  I want readers to consider how depressed and overwhelmed these 60 workers feel knowing that come the end of September or October, they DO NOT HAVE A JOB!

    FCIB, per its Regional Manager, Rik Parkhill, on August 3, told CWU representatives that they signed a sale agreement that same day and that for the past eighteen months, FCIB has worked to make a sale and get out of Belize. The considerations the workers are asking for are not beyond the means or capacity of the FCIB; it is not the government that will spend to meet their demands. All the government has to do is not rush through this Vesting Act in the House of Representatives and pull the rug from under the feet of the workers.

    With or without a negotiated CBA, workers would still be demanding a reasonable exit package, so don’t muddy the waters, PM.   We publicly call on the PM and his government to have some mercy on these 60 voters … your citizens … your people and stop prioritizing the interests of the multi-national multi-million dollar corporations. Set your arrogance aside and don’t be like the Pharaoh who hardened his heart to the cry of his people!

    CWU calls on NTUCB, and all its affiliate unions, and all entities in Belize to stand strong with the 60 who will soon be unemployed.

Respectfully,

Audrey Matura-Shepherd
CWU President

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