The issue of alleged policy forbidding the speaking of languages other than English inside the First Caribbean International Bank branch in Dangriga Town has taken center stage in recent days. But while the Bank has denied fostering such a policy, it is in a behind-the-scenes battle with a soon-to-be former employee, Uwahnie Martinez, who alleges discrimination by the bank’s management. She and another Garifuna employee of long standing have turned to the Christian Workers’ Union which represents a majority of the branch’s employees.
On Wednesday CWU President Audrey Matura Shepherd reported that the Bank is stonewalling its efforts to settle the matter behind closed doors.
“What happened, when we became aware of the issue, as is protocol, we had to convene our executive meeting and see how we move forward with the issue. During that time it became public, the issue only of the Garifuna-speaking, by inference, at the branch. But the issue, I must say, is that and more.
The bank immediately brought an email and made several calls to me asking to meet with them personally, and at the same time wrote a letter asking for a meeting with the employee apart. Our policy at the union is that we never have meetings concerning any employees especially in their absence, especially a matter of this nature, and we did not believe in having two separate meetings.
So we wrote them back and asked them for a meeting for us to have one, and to have the employee there and two, to ensure that whatever evidence that they have tried to use against her, or whatever complains she has been made against them, that we have all the records straight.
Up to today, they have refused to give us that material, and as recent as yesterday they sent us an e-mail saying now, that they do not believe they need to have a meeting with the union, and the union position is that we disagree.
Today I will tell you a bit about what is going on, but we are giving them the final opportunity to have a meeting with the union by Friday. We are giving them a deadline for tomorrow, at 1 p.m.”
The other employee, a male working for three decades, has also written to the Bank’s international headquarters outlining his grievances, with no response. Coincidentally, these are the only two Garinagu employees working at the Bank, although Uwahnie Martinez has resigned with two months’ notice effective October 8, and the other employee was forced to take leave.
In the absence of a clarification of its position either written or oral, says Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the Bank should apologize.
“They have not apologized to our member. We believe that an apology is required, and out of courtesy the bank should at least respond to the e-mail, in which our client member made it well known, what was done to her and what were the instructions that she cannot speak her language. It wasn’t the first time that warning came, and we need the bank to respond because the manager categorically told our member that she had already consulted with top management, that this came from above.”
According to Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Uwahnie Martinez’s resignation does not cure the Bank’s problems. The Union has advised other employee members to stay out of trouble as the Union sorts the matter out.