In early August when the media awaited the Prime Minister at the Phillip Goldson International Airport, we got the chance to ask him about the news of Heritage Bank taking over the assets of CIBC First Caribbean International Bank as it was announced that they would be closing its doors in Belize. As it pertains to the fate of the sixty employees, this is what Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the media.
“I was assured that certainly the vast majority of the First Caribbean staff will be absorbed by Heritage; they did not say every last single individual employee but the vast majority will be absorbed by Heritage. Clearly all of the employees of First Caribbean will have to be paid their severance and get their full benefits for those who will be re-employed by Heritage, it’s the start of a new chapter; the others that are not going to be absorbed I hope and believe that they will be able to find jobs in the banking sector, in the financial sector of the country.”
Forty days later, the perception of a smooth transition for the staff members seems to be the furthest thing from the truth as the President of the Christian Workers Union, Audrey Matura Shepherd met the media today and expressed the disappointment of the employees on the Prime Minister’s disregard of them and the present stand still of negotiations between staff and management.
AUDREY MATURA SHEPHERD
“It is not true that any of those employees had been offered any employment at Heritage Bank. We know that the Prime Minister said that there was an assurance that the “vast majority will be employed” that is not true. There is the most that has been communicated to us at the union by Mr. Parkhil was that Heritage Bank will be needing employees but they can’t commit that they will take any quantity of employees. When that statement first came out one of the reasons the employees did not say anything or go public is that they were hoping that in good faith that the Prime Minister’s word would come through, that the vast majority would be absorbed although they would be told otherwise but they were saying “well he’s part of the negotiations because he has to pass the vesting act maybe he knows something that they don’t know and maybe he has used his good office to impress on these people that they can’t leave sixty people out there, so they said nothing at that point and we waited. The fact that he said that he is sure that everybody will get their severance and their full benefits; what he doesn’t know is that the full benefits is still up in the air and that those benefits are uncertain at this point because even if they want to focus only on the CBA that should have been negotiated two years ago. The CBA is not there for you to be certain as to what those benefits are and we are saying “look we don’t need the CBA we just need the exit benefit”. So their sentiment then was one of hopefulness and “we don’t think the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance would just leave us hanging.” The fact that we wrote a letter and never got a response they got very concerned and the fact now that we know over the holidays that there will be a sitting I don’t think the word disappointment can explain. The mere fact that you all are telling me that a lot of the workers are sick speaks volume as to what the reaction has been. I mean clearly they’re sick to their stomach and I don’t know what else as sick but it is a sickening situation.”
The concerns of the employees are many. Aside from what the bank will pay them for their years of service, whether they will get their outstanding wage increases and what their exit packages will be like, some staff members are looking at being unemployed and having no source of income to pay their bills. Those who are hopeful in becoming employed at Heritage Bank, are worrying about how they will manoeuvre their expenses as we were told that the salaries paid at Heritage Bank are far lower than what CIBC pays its workers. 59 employees who have loans at the CIBC Bank are also concerned that the rates at Heritage Bank are far higher than what they were paying with CIBC First Caribbean. Love News will keep following this story in the coming weeks.