Employees of the soon-to-be sold First Caribbean International Bank and their negotiators, the Christian Workers’ Union, hope to delay the pending sale of the bank to Heritage Bank and are willing to strike to do it. They want to be secure in their exit packages, in lieu of pending negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement that should have been settled long ago. And they are disappointed in what they consider to be the negative reaction of Prime Minister Dean Barrow against them and in favour of the banks. Their conduit is CWU president Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who spoke to the press this afternoon in Belize City and conveyed that the Prime Minister is and was made aware of the concerns of the workers.
Audrey Matura Shepherd: What he has failed to tell this nation is that while he was walking into that hotel, two female members of this union who are employees of FICB approached him personally, and hand delivered a letter to him that is signed by no other than the chiefs of steward of the union. We elected to go that way because the union members were concerned that he always has a personal attack and gripe against their president, so they asked the chiefs of stewards to sign the letter so that the Prime Minister would have no excuse why not to answer them. At that meeting they said, just as the Prime Minister was entering the hotel, Mr. Gabby Vega was with him and because he appeared to have had a lot of problems with his back, he couldn’t reach out to take the letter, and the securities were holding back the ladies from him. Mr. Gabby Vega took possession of the hand delivered letter which we can give you a copy of, in which that letter, they knew that he received it that day. That letter was dated August 28th. They delivered it on that Monday and to date the Prime Minister has not answered them. So that goes to the other question that they want the Prime Minister answers on. The Prime Minister said that, that’s what happens when you only hear one side of the story and they agree with that. That is indeed what happens when you hear one side of the story and the only side of the story he has heard and cared to air and stand by is the one of the bank.
Matura-Shepherd went on to accuse the Bank of dragging its feet on negotiations and states that at all times the Union initiated communication. As for the Prime Minister’s comments, he who alleges, she says, must prove.
Audrey Matura Shepherd: After that, the other correspondents on the issue of collective bargaining agreement whether you all believe it or not came again from this union in May of 2015. I want the Prime Minister and I challenge him to bring the documentary evidence from FCIB where he says that the bank has been pushing and harassing us to meet on a CBA. That is absolutely an outright lie and I want him to bring this correspondent because this folder that I have here is of all the correspondents we’ve had with the bank. We went back through our records. We went back through our emails and we took out the few letters, and all the letters came clearly from this union trying to negotiate.
But does it all really matter? At this point, Matura-Shepherd says, the employees are literally sick and tired and want to put the entire saga behind them. Here’s how she says Government can assist.
Audrey Matura Shepherd: What people need to understand is that the 2013 CBA is still in force. There is a clause that says if we never ever sign another CBA that remains the CBA up to that time that organization closes. So it’s misleading what they’re saying. There is a subsisting CBA. The reason the employees don’t want to deal with a CBA is because they know the subsisting one exists. What they want to deal with is the exit package that they will get? What they will get when this business closes down? What is something else the government can do? The government now has gone through the National Assembly and rushed through the law, and it’s rushed because in one day, first second third reading, it goes to the Senate tomorrow. The Prime Minister has not stated the commencement date. I think he needs to meet with the employees so there would be a discussion as to what that commencement date can possibly and plausible be. Two, the actual, once a legislation goes through the system, through parliament, it then needs to be sent over to the Governor General who will sign it. Once the Governor General ascends to it, then it’s gazetted. So before the governor general signs it, there is still an opportunity for the government to ensure that the demands of the employees are met. And then before it is gazetted when it becomes law, again the government is the one that has that power. They’re the one who is going to put the last nail in the coffin of the employees, and they don’t want to take responsibility. That is why they’ve taken the approach where they attack the messenger, in rather that addressing the issue.
Matura-Shepherd says the Union continues to await positive feedback for negotiations on the packages, and not the moribund CBA, which according to a continuity clause remains in effect until a new one is created, which is moot since the company is being sold and the workers being let go. As for attacks against her, she says that is reflective of a Prime Minister intolerant of a collective management style such as she practices with the sprawling union.