Front Page
February 3, 2006

A spate of industrial action erupted earlier this week leaving hundreds of Vincentians without important services.

The banking service of First Caribbean International Bank Limited was a virtual lock down on Tuesday as workers called in sick to protest several aspects of their terms and conditions of work.{{more}}

Watchmen who were recently dismissed from the Ministry of Transport and Works also took offence with their former employer, while tension mounted at the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Port Authority between the National Workers Movement and the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU) over the right to represent workers at the port authority. According to the General Secretary of the CTAWU, the present episodes of industrial action are symptomatic of problems that have been boiling underground for sometime and have only now erupted. “This year we are not going to tolerate any employer, whether public or private sector, violating the rights of our members.”

Today Friday, banking operations at FirstCaribbean International Bank Limited are back to normal after a sickout of staff that almost brought service at the bank to a halt on Tuesday.

According to sources at the financial institution, disgruntled workers are protesting several matters, among them, a cap Management is seeking to place on redundancy packages and unsatisfactory working conditions at the institution.

According to one source, limited office space for the bank’s operations department and an ongoing rat infestation problem may have fuelled a break down in relations already strained over concerns about the packages offered to workers being made redundant.

When Searchlight visited the bank early Tuesday morning, a sizeable crowd was gathered out front, trying to force their way to gain entrance to the bank.

FirstCaribbean bank’s Retail Manager Andre Cadougan was at the door, assisting security staff with controlling the two-at-a-time traffic being allowed into the bank. Cadougan stated that the local management was unable to give any information on the industrial action.

Another bank employee, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that the bank’s staff had been on “go-slow” since last week Friday and had through their Union, the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU), tabled their concerns to management. They had been seeking a response by noon on Monday.

“We are not against local management, as they have their hands tied, they can’t do anything….The grouse is with the central management of FirstCaribbean and their bank policies. Sometimes you have to get the public involved so they would take us on,” the bank employee told SEARCHLIGHT.

Tuesday’s lock down seems to be a continuation of unresolved issues relating to redundancy packages offered to some workers since the merger between Barclays Bank plc and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) West Indies Holdings.

According to General Secretary of the CTAWU, Lloyd Small, the 55 employees at the bank whom the union represents are not satisfied with the redundancy packages offered to outgoing staff.

The CTAWU General Secretary stated that the union will continue to refuse any proposals to accept or negotiate any maximum payment associated with redundancy, as there are no provisions in the revised Protection Act of 2003 for maximum pay out.

“Our counter proposal, taking both theirs and the labour laws into consideration, we are saying two to seven years should be three weeks pay for each year of service and over seven years should be four weeks pay, and this is in line with the other two commercial banks.

After being advised by the Labour Commissioner, the bank wrote us back telling us that they cannot accept the tiered schedule and our position that there must not be a cap. Based on the advice of the Labour Commissioner, FirstCaribbean is disregarding the labour laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines by way of trying to enforce a maximum pay out contrary to the Protection Act of 2003,” Small lashed out.

“They never had someone on the ground dealing with us, every time we had to refer to them with labour relations, we had to resort to the employee relations manager or the industrial relations manager based at the FCIB headquarters in Barbados.”

Small said this matter has been unresolved since October 2004. “We had to force the Bank’s representatives to come to St. Vincent to continue the negotiations. Now that the workers have expressed their grouse, we would be monitoring the situation very closely,” Small said.

FirstCaribbean’s Country Manager for St. Vincent, Radcliffe Nurse is hoping the matter can be resolved in the shortest possible time. Nurse told Searchlight on Wednesday that following a meeting scheduled for Thursday with the bank and Union representatives his expectation is for the parties to come to a consensus on the issue.

“We apologise to our customers for the inconvenience and we are working with staff and their representative to resolve the matter,” Nurse concluded.

FirstCaribbean Bank operates some 100 branches in 16 countries across the region with a staffing of 3,400 employees. The bank currently holds assets of over US$9 billion.