At the beginning of a new work week, the Belcan Bridge Branch for CIBC First Caribbean International Bank remains closed while the other branches are opened for regular working hours albeit the Orange Walk and Belmopan branches will be operating only to one o’clock this afternoon. Last Friday, we told you of the majority of employees at the CIBC First Caribbean International Bank who fell sick and as a result forced the bank’s management to close three of its branches located at the San Cas Plaza in Belize City as well as in Dangriga and Orange Walk. While the Christian Workers Union nor the employees are not admitting that it was a sick-out planned after the bank’s management had not been forthcoming in terms of the outstanding salary increases and the exit packages for the workers, the union’s President, Audrey Matura-Shepherd did tell the media last Friday that the staff is not happy as they have no idea what they will receive once the bank closes its doors for good in Belize. It is a dialogue that had begun since early August when the bank first came public, announcing the selling of its assets to Heritage Bank and its departure from Belize. In an interview with the media on Friday, Matura Shepherd announced that while they had written to the Prime Minister Dean Barrow and has included him in the outgoing correspondence on behalf of the employees, there has been no response and with that, they have decided to write a protest note to the Prime Minister.
AUDREY MATURA SHEPHERD
“Several things will happen. One, definitely we are writing a protest note to the Prime Minister today (Friday) because at least out of common courtesy and decency he could have responded to our letter, he knows what’s going on, he can’t pretend he doesn’t know. We wrote him the letter, we can show you all the letters and we copied him on several letters, he knows what’s going on. So we have to make it known because only the Prime Minister can stop this at this point. It’s him, who as the Minister of Finance has to go at the House and present this legislation and it is in his power now to say, “I’m going to put this off, I’m going to be satisfied that they are negotiating, I am going to be satisfied that 60 of the workers, 60 voters and 60 heads of households are being affected and when you are talking about sixty heads of households you are talking about extensions of that family.”
As it relates to what has not been admittedly referred to as a sick-out, Matura Shepherd told the media last Friday that with sickness being unpredictable, it was uncertain whether the workers would be in good health to return to work today.
AUDREY MATURA SHEPHERD
“At FCIB, every employee is entitled to six days sick leave without notice, so you have six days where you can call in sick and say you are sick and you don’t have to bring a doctor paper and those who don’t have those six days just need to bring a doctor paper. Our labor laws clearly cover and protect anyone who is sick. The coincidence that everyone got sick at the same time, it has to tell you the magnitude of the shock and trauma that they are going through. I can only tell you that it has been a terrible blow because if the bank wants to be fair and I mean First Caribbean Bank they can reveal the correspondence and every attempt because beyond these letters I’ll share with you. There have been many emails going to them to make sure they don’t take us by surprise and that has not happen. Now is it morally right to hold back labor? Well I think when bread is being taken out of your mouth and literally that is what is happening when bread is being taken out of your mouth not by a poor man on the street but a multinational corporation with the aid of our Central Bank and our government then what else will you do? There comes a time when people will have to decide, I will fight or I will run and clearly these workers debilitated by their illness will have to decide what they’ll do.”
Up to our midday news, Matura Shepherd told Love News that there has been no response from the Prime Minister or the bank’s management …. But during a press conference this afternoon held by the Office of the Prime Minister, the matter was briefly addressed. Last Friday, Matura Shepherd painted a picture of complete neglect on the part of the Prime Minister Dean Barrow as it relates to the welfare or concerns of the employees of the CIBC First Caribbean International Bank. She said that despite correspondence being sent and copied to the Prime Minister, there has been no response on his part. She also added that as it pertains to the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the bank’s employees, there had been none since the last one expired in 2013 and that due to the absence of that document, the workers are uncertain as to what their exit package will include when it comes to severance and other entitlements. But Prime Minister Dean Barrow, while harshly criticizing the union leader, added more flesh to that story when he gave some history of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and how the Christian Workers Union seemingly failed the bank’s employees, resulting in the absence of a valid CBA.
“The Christian Workers Union’s leadership is either dense or dishonest or actually, I think both. It turns out that the Collective Bargaining Agreement that the staff at FCIB had, lapsed a year and a half ago. I think just around the time the CWU saw new leadership taking over. Despite numerous invitations from the bank to the CWU to submit proposals so that the negotiating process over a new collective bargaining agreement could have begun for well over a year the CWU did not respond. Similarly to what is happening at port or what happened at the port. When the CWU leadership finally responded it was something like two or three weeks before the sale of FCIB to Heritage was announced. If they had responded when they were supposed to have, no doubt there would have been a new CBA in existence and we would not have anything like the difficulties that we are facing. So that union must not try to make a virtue of incompetence, that union must not use its own default to try to politically pressure government into not discharging its obligation with respect to a situation that affects the banking industry, in which two independent private commercial entities have concluded a sale.”
In addition, Matura Shepherd told the media that Government is having a Speical Sitting of the House this week to pass the Vesting Act which will put the bank’s employees at a disadvantage ….. but Prime Minister Barrow says the passing of the Vesting Act will do no such thing.
“On the 28th of August, realizing that the bank has not even responded to our proposal 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 union and ensuring that employees get everything that they should. To date we have gotten no response from the Prime Minister but prior to that we made sure that other correspondences he would see so he would know what the climate is and what is happening. That letter was very important because I don’t know if you all know but we found out yesterday that, well we had heard rumors from earlier last week, but we confirmed yesterday that there will be a Special Sitting 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 it’s not one of those legislations that you can’t pass in one day, you literally have to have two different sessions. So there will be a session Tuesday to read it for the first reading and then the second session will be Wednesday. Now that is very bad news for the employees because what it means is that once they get that Vesting Act passed basically First Caribbean has no other obligation to the employees.”
“To pass the Vesting Act is to facilitate the transfer of the assets. If we didn’t do this, and there is precedence when Ashcroft bought Royal Bank of Canada; when FCIB bought Barclays Bank; when Scotia Belize bought out Scotia Bank – on each occasion government, and there were different administrations on each of those occasions, passed a Vesting Act. If you don’t do that the transfer of the securities with respect to every single mortgage will have to be laboriously processed at the registry one by one. So all we are doing is facilitating this process so that there are no slippages.”
We will have more on this story in tomorrow’s newscast.