In early August, First Caribbean International announced that it would be selling out its assets to a much smaller bank, Heritage Bank. FCIB has five branches in the country of Belize; two in Belize City, one in Belmopan, one in Dangriga and one in Orange Walk. The buy over, however, does not include FCIB staff, about 60 employees in total, who were told that they were losing their jobs and need to re-apply to Heritage Bank if they wish to be employed. Staff members were in negotiations over a new collective bargaining agreement at the time of the announcement. All staff members, except for management, are members of the Christian Workers Union and since the announcement was made, the CWU had expresses disappointment with CIBC for not being forthcoming when the question was directly put to them via a letter dated July third, 2015. The union also said it would be working along CIBC to ensure that a proper exit package is put together for those employees who would be joining the ranks of the unemployed. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives will be meeting and it is believed that it will be to pass a bill for the accommodation of the buy over from FCIB to Heritage.
Today, all 55 Union members employed by First Caribbean called in sick as part of their protest of the way the buy over is going; without the input of the employees. In Belmopan, persons trying to enter the bank were turned back by the security personnel at the door. We understand that in all other branches except for the one on Albert Street in Belize City and the one in Dangriga were closed today. In Belize City, it was management personnel who were manning the branch and accommodating clients. In Dangriga, it was also business as usual since all the workers in that branch are now contract workers and not union members. Today, CWU President Audrey Matura Sheppard spoke to the media at a press conference about the concerns of the employees.
There are over sixty employees who will be left without a job. Of those over sixty which include managers and everyone, sixty are members of the Christian Workers Union – we have one hundred percent membership from the employees except those on contract because employers now put people on contract and threaten them if they join union their contract will not be renewed. But it is minimal who they have on contract. Those sixty employees are concerned about one basic thing. When the bank closes they will be left without a job. What First Caribbean has not told anyone is that fifty percent of their loans that they carry right now are from their own employees. So that means fifty percent of their loans cannot be paid because fifty percent of those loans are being held by the employees who would be without a job. It is not true that any of those employees have been offered any employment at Heritage Bank. We know that the Prime Minister said that their was an assurance that the vast majority will be employed. That is not true.
As we told you, on Tuesday, government will be presenting a Vesting Act which, according to Matura, makes the buy over final, putting the employees at risk of not getting proper benefits.
We think it is unfair that the employees don’t have any certainty of employment. The only certainty is that they will be unemployed. The employees are all concerned that they all have loans with the bank except for one member that we know of, all other employees have either mortgage, personal loan, or consumer loan, they have some kind of loan with the bank. The very bank that is leaving them without a job. In our proposal and negotiations those are some of the things we are discussing so you could imagine how the employees feel knowing Central Bank has given its approval despite us writing and asking them to please at least liaise with us. Now we’ve learnt that the Government is gonna pass this Vesting Act which makes it final. Once that Vesting Act is passed that makes it final. Its just for them to go through the semantics and the transition. And so, three, the employees will be left without any leverage to negotiate. We believe its an intentional putting off of addressing our proposal so that it would buy time for the First Caribbean Bank to get what they want and leaving our employees without the ability to negotiate something for them to leave.
And when asked about the sick out, this is what Matura Shepherd had to say. [FCIB INSERT 3]
Well 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 tenth of September, the very day when the whole country is celebrating, that not only has the Governor given conditional approval but your government, your Prime Minister, your Minister of Finance – the one to whom you have been writing is gonna pass a legislation without any prior, discussion, written letter, nothing to the union that has asked you to consult – you could just imagine how the felt and the shock it has been because when we spoke with Mr Park Hill on the sixth of August – no the third of August when he told us that the bank would be selling out, the projected day for that legislation to go through the national assembly was October 31st. So, clearly they 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 powers that the workers have. And so I could just imagine they all got sick indeed because you would be sick to your stomach.
Matura also says that they wrote the Prime Minister a protest letter today.
Well several things will happen. One, definitely we are writing a protest now to the Prime Minister today 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 letter 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 on Tuesday and present this legislation. And it is in his power now to say, ‘you know what, I am going to put this off’. I’m gonna be satisfied that they are negotiating. I’m gonna be satisfied that sixty of the workers, because those of the ones that we represent, sixty voters may I remind him and sixty head of household are being affected. And when you talk about sixty head of household you are talking about extensions of that family.
We will keep following this developing story.