Front Page
February 17, 2006


A possible major upset could be brewing among unionized workers here as industrial action at the local branch of FirstCaribbean International Bank Limited goes into its third week.

It appears both public and private sector employees are poised to walk off their jobs any time soon in a show of solidarity with their union, the Commercial, Technical and Allied Workers’ Union (CTAWU).{{more}}

Union members from all quarters have thrown their support behind colleagues employed at the FirstCaribbean Bank Limited who are locked in a wrangle over a number of issues with management, most recently, the bank’s refusal to pay some of its workers for one day, January 31, when some of them called in sick.

A number of workers from different sectors joined the bank’s staff at the start of this week’s protest action on Tuesday, picketing with placards, some reading: “Workers Unite You May Be Next”, “Vincentian Workers Have Dignity”, Pay Workers When They Are Sick”, “Is FirstCaribbean A Doctor’s Clinic”.

A meeting called on Monday, attended by close to 500 union members, was one indication of the threatening domino effect in which workers are geared to petition against the ‘no pay for industrial action’ issue between workers at FirstCaribbean and their employers.

“Our union members have decided they are going to provide solidarity support and if called upon to take industrial action, they are willing to do that on behalf of the workers and in the interest of the labour movement,” was the warning issued by CTAWU’s General-Secretary Lloyd Small.

Small indicated to SEARCHLIGHT that once the Bank’s officials succeed in not paying the workers for reporting sick, this could set precedent for other companies to follow.

“If we have to, we will expand this (industrial action) into the other sectors of the economy; we might have to call the workers from the other banks out, if necessary, to provide solidarity support to the workers in the form of a strike or sick out or whatever form they think best suited for the situation,” Small forewarned.

“We are willing to be flexible to the demands of the Bank, in the context of best practice in the labour market here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. We are not going to benchmark ourselves with any other labour markets in the Caribbean. If they want to talk about best practices across the Caribbean they have to look at the harmonization of wages. Are they prepared to pay the same wages here that the workers and Antigua and Barbados are getting?” the CTAWU General Secretary stated.

Even with the involvement of this country’s Labour Commissioner and Minister of Labour, both the Bank and the Union are yet to come to a compromise on a number of issues, some of which now appear to be escalating.

Last week FirstCaribbean published a full page statement in the local press “FirstCaribbean Clears The Air” in which they claimed to be “setting the record straight on a number of inaccuracies in recent media coverage” of the ongoing discussions between the Bank and CTAWU.

Labour Minister René Baptiste had given the bank’s officials a Monday February 13 deadline to reverse its proposed redundancy payout to its staff, and agree to a compromise, but they requested an extension until today Friday 17.

Union members have agreed to step up protest action if the matter is not settled soon, but ended this week’s picketing yesterday pending the outcome of FirstCaribbean’s response to the Labour Minister.