Forty days ago the announcement came that the CIBC First Caribbean International Bank would be leaving Belize and selling its assets to Heritage Bank Limited. From all indications, it seemed that the transition would flow smoothly as the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow had commented that majority of the staff members from CIBC would be absorbed by Heritage Bank and that CIBC would be working on an attractive exit package for the estimated sixty employees. Today, however, Love News learnt that at least three branches of CIBC First Caribbean International Bank were closed, namely the Orange Walk, Belmopan and Belize City Belcan. With today being a regular working day, the closure did raise some questions, concerns and inconveniences to the public. In an effort to get some answers, Love News went fact finding and has found that there may be a possible sick out being staged by some of the employees after relations went south between management and staff over the exit packages and outstanding salary increases. Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the President of the Christian Workers’ Union spoke to the media this afternoon and while she would not admit that this is a staged sick-out by workers, she did use the incident as a reflection of how sick one can become knowing that in a few weeks they will be jobless.
AUDREY MATURA SHEPHERD
“What I can tell you about this so called sick out is that if you were in the position of the employees and you find out on the 10th of September, the very day the whole country is celebrating that not only has the governor given conditional approval but your Prime Minister, your Minister of Finance to whom you have been writing is going to pass legislation without prior discussion to the union that has asked you to consult you can just imagine how they felt and the shock it has been because when we spoke with Mr. Parkhill on the 3rd of August when the bank would be selling out the projected day for that legislation to go through the National Assembly was October 31st so clearly it gave us a sense of comfort that we would have had enough time to negotiate but I believe that the powers that are involved with this negotiation and this sale clearly supersede the power that the workers have and so I could just imagine that they all got sick indeed. You would be sick to your stomach, how could you even work after you realize that at all angles you’ve been sold out?
Reliable sources have indicated to Love News that the bank’s management is insisting on renegotiating a Collective Bargaining Agreement – an agreement the staff says will have no relevance as the bank is closing its doors in Belize. Staff members, as was agreed upon, reportedly submitted a revised proposal to management regarding the figures for salary increases and exit packages but that proposal was ignored as management responded fourteen working days later with the very same initial offer. The situation has gotten frustrating for the employees that letters have been written to the Prime Minister, the Labor Commissioner and the Governor of the Central Bank of Belize asking for some intervention considering that the Central Bank of Belize has already given its conditional approval for the banks to conduct their business and Government is preparing to have consecutive sittings of the House of Representatives to facilitate the process. According to Matura Shepherd, the Prime Minister has gone silent on the matter while employees are uncertain if they will be paid the monies owed to them and what their exit package will be.
AUDREY MATURA SHEPHERD
“Come August 17th CWU on behalf of the workers did send in the new proposal so we expected that by August 28 there would be a response from the bank, there was none and still there is none as to our proposal because we did not get any response from the bank of course we kept doing our due diligence to find out things so on August 24th we wrote the governor of the Central Bank to inquire how it is going with the approval and “please do not give an approval until you know that everything is in order with the workers.” of course they don’t have any legal obligation but we feel that because this multinational corporation is leaving this country all entities including the central bank would want to make sure that employees are not left disenfranchised. Our Chief Shop Steward, under the letterhead of CWU, wrote the Prime Minister and asked the Prime Minister not to pass the relevant vesting act without consulting with the union and ensuring that the employees get everything that they should. Today we have gotten no response from the Prime Minister but prior to that we made sure that other correspondences he would see so that he would know the climate is and what is happening but we confirmed yesterday that there will be a special sitting of the National Assembly of the House of Representatives this Tuesday and Wednesday to pass this vesting act. The reason we are told that they have to do it in two days is because its not one of those legislations that you can pass in one day, you literally have to have two different sessions so there will be a session to read it for the first reading and then the second session will be Wednesday. Now that is very bad news for the employees is that what it means is that once they get that vesting act passed basically First Caribbean has no other obligations to the employees.
It is uncertain whether the employees will recover over the weekend in order to return to work on Monday. Love News spoke to the bank’s Country Manager, Glen Smith a few minutes before news time who told us that they are not in the business of conducting its industrial relations or negotiations in public and therefore he would not comment on the status of affairs between the bank’s workers and management. As it pertains to the opening of the bank’s branches on Monday, Smith says he is unsure whether they will be sufficiently staffed. It is our understanding that CIBC is looking to wrap up their business in Belize by the end of October.