February 17, 2006
Find solution and avoid any strike

The industrial action at the local branch of FirstCaribbean International Bank (FCIB) is into its third week. The workers’ union, the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (CTAWU), met with its general membership on Monday, and called on them to join the picket line.

General Secretary of the union, Lloyd Small, said he was pleased with the response of the general membership and hinted that the union’s response could escalate if the situation did not improve. {{more}}

Up to press time, the bank had not responded to Minister of Labour, the Hon. Rene Baptiste’s compromise proposal on redundancy payments, already accepted by the union. The minister had initially given the bank up to last Monday to respond, but they requested an extension until today. The bank seems reluctant to budge on the redundancy package they have proposed or to pay salaries to workers who called in sick two weeks ago.

It could be that the bank, which has branches in sixteen countries, is seeking to harmonise benefits throughout its branches and fears that giving in to the workers’ demands here may trigger calls for similar benefits in the other territories where they have branches.

But one size can’t fit all.

FCIB itself acknowledges this in the “FirstPartnership Principles Agreement” it referred to in the notice published by the bank

in last week’s issue of Searchlight.

This agreement was signed by FCIB and eleven trade unions from around the region, including CTAWU. It outlines the principles the signatories hope will guide the relationship between the Trade Unions and FirstCaribbean across the Caribbean.

In a statement issued by the bank on the date of signing, July 4, 2005, the bank said that the agreement “is not intended to replace the individual country negotiations which are held in unionized countries.” They also stated that the agreement, while setting out a single partnership framework, allows the individual unions the “flexibility to support local conditions.” That flexibility is what is needed now.

Another worrying factor is the mistrust that seems to be creeping into the negotiations. This is apparent from the statements published by both the bank and the union relating to the negotiations. This is unfortunate, because acrimony between unions and employers is never good, and the workers are usually the ones to suffer.

And if settlement is not reached soon, this impasse could grow to include workers from other sectors. Although the CTAWU has not flexed its muscle in the recent past, it is still the country’s largest trade union, with approximately 3000 members.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines can ill-afford the loss in productivity and the disruption a general strike could cause.

We call on both the union and the bank to recall the broad-based principles of honesty, mutual trust, respect and integrity contained in the agreement they signed last July, and work towards resolving the matter in the shortest possible time for the good of the workers, the bank and the country.