BELIZE CITY–The president of the Christian Workers Union (CWU), Audrey Matura-Shepherd, called a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to offer, via a public appeal, a “final opportunity” to CIBC for a meeting with the union to settle allegations coming out of its Dangriga branch that the only two Garifuna-speaking employees at that location, a male and a female, had been told that they could not speak their language in the bank.
Matura-Shepherd said that one of the correspondences from the bank stated that the language was “loud and unwelcome.” She said that the Barbados arm of the bank, which runs the Belize operations, recently wrote her and tagged it as confidential, asking her to please not come public on the allegations.
She said that the bank wanted “to try and corner me for a private meeting,” but “that’s not how we operate…” Matura-Shepherd insists that any meeting has to include all concerned parties. They were asking FirstCaribbean to respond to their request for a meeting by Thursday afternoon, and CWU General Secretary Floyd Neal told Amandala that the bank responded today, with a request for the CWU to clarify what the issues are, but not with a commitment to meet.
Neal said that they are still calling for a meeting with the bank tomorrow, and also for prior disclosure of documents to support decisions made by the bank.
In speaking with the press Wednesday afternoon, Matura-Shepherd said that if the bank fails to meet with them, they are prepared to come public with an e-mail written by Uwahnie Martinez to top management and “the high handedness with which they replied.”
Matura-Shepherd said that Martinez has resigned, but the bank had refused her resignation, and at the same time, wanted to make claims against her in what she said appears to be an attempt to condemn her.
When FirstCaribbean held a press conference last Friday evening, they indicated that they have no policy barring the use of the Garifuna language. They said that they would not speak on human resource or industrial relations matters.
However, Matura-Shepherd said that there is another employee at the bank, who has worked there for 30 years, who has faced similar issues and that that person has been “forced to take leave.”
She told the press that a similar directive was issued at another district branch, which she declined to name. That directive called on workers not to speak in Spanish, but the Belizean who was managing the branch resisted the attempt and so the policy was not implemented.
According to Matura-Shepherd, if the matter cannot be solved through dialogue, the matter could be taken to court.
Matura-Shepherd said that the CWU has three outstanding issues with CIBC FirstCaribbean in Belize:
(1) The bank, she said, has made contradictory statements on its language policy – on the one hand suggesting you can speak Garifuna out of earshot, but on the other hand saying that there is no ban against speaking on the job.
(2) The bank has not apologized to Martinez, even after she wrote the bank’s management on the issue.
(3) There are several pending issues, but since Martinez has resigned, the bank said they don’t need to discuss them.
Matura-Shepherd said that correspondences with the bank have been copied to the Labour Commissioner and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, the umbrella organization to which the CWU belongs.
She said that last Friday, the bank accepted Martinez’s resignation, which becomes effective in October. Martinez has worked with the bank for 14 years, Matura-Shepherd said.