Operations at First Citizens Bank ground to a virtual halt today, as approximately 75 per cent of workers walked off the job, and gathered instead at the headquarters of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) for closed door talks.
At issue, according to BWU Assistant General Secretary Dwaine Paul, was the bank’s failure to honour a 2016 wage profit-sharing agreement.
“Workers attended a meeting here at the union headquarters to discuss the unfortunate situation where the bank, who has been in negotiation with the union on a collective agreement for the period 2013 to 2018, has decided to seek to withdraw from one of the major components of that negotiation. That component relates to an agreement reached for profit sharing within the organization,” Paul told reporters this morning.
The union official would not divulge the details of the meeting, stating only that the BWU had seen no evidence that the bank’s decision to “renege on the agreement” was predicated on the economic downturn. It was not immediately clear when the workers would return to the job, and Paul cast doubt on an early return, stating the bank was negotiating in bad faith, making it difficult to determine when the workers would end their industrial action.
“The decision of the bank is not based on any real developments in Barbados but has to do mainly with policy decisions being made by First Citizen’s parents in Trinidad as to how things should operate. We have been discussing with the bank for the last few weeks about this matter, which the bank has negotiated in bad faith. To date the response has not been forthcoming.
“We cannot have a high-handed approach where the bank agrees in good faith to do one thing, then unilaterally decide to do something else and the workers have to take it. The workers of Barbados are not open to be exploited by anyone, be it a local, regional or international company, ” Paul insisted.
Although Paul would not give a timeline when workers would be back on the job, he maintained that the BWU was open to talks with the bank in order to bring the longstanding issue to a close.
“I can’t say how long these meetings will last. I can’t tell you if they [the workers] would be back on the job today or tomorrow. That is simply not something I can say . . . .The union is always open to negotiation and the first option is always to dialogue because Barbados is built on having industrial relations where we discuss and have gentleman’s agreements. This is exactly what is being threatened in this case,” Paul stressed, adding that the union’s executive council would discuss the matter to determine if further steps were necessary.
“Based on what happens today and based on what indications we receive from the bank, the matter would have to be taken to the executive council to determine what are the next steps,” Paul said.
First Citizens Bank announced in a statement that several of its branches were closed today until further notice.