The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) has condemned what it calls the deliberate and unsatisfactory labour practices of Republic Bank Ltd.
And the union’s deputy general secretary Dwaine Paul is cautioning islands in the region where the Trinidadian-owned commercial bank has a presence, to be wary.
Paul issued the warning this morning shortly after meeting with over 200 Republic Bank (Barbados) Ltd workers from the bank’s nine branches, at an emergency meeting at the union’s Solidarity House headquarters.
While the bank’s airport branch was forced to close, its other locations at Broad Street, Independence Square, Limegrove, Six Roads, Speightstown, Warrens, Wildey and Worthing remained open despite the action.
Paul revealed that the sanctioned BWU meeting had been called to address several of the staff’s grievances.
He said the main bones of contention stemmed from the reluctance of the bank to conduct and implement a job evaluation exercise, as well as its unwillingness to agree on a reasonable pay hike.
However, Paul said it was not only in Barbados that Republic Bank had been faced by industrial action by its workers.
He revealed that action had also been taken against the bank in Trinidad and Grenada.
“We do not understand why commercial banks which tend to always be profitable institutions want to treat their workers in this manner. In the banking sector we’ve had issues and we have issues now, but none to the level that we’re experiencing with Republic Bank,” Paul maintained.
“We are having a lot of challenges within the Republic Bank arena and for me it is not only concerning Barbados, but our investigations suggest that this is par for the course for Republic Bank. We’ve had industrial disputes in Trinidad of late; we’ve had industrial disputes in Grenada of late, so for those countries which will be welcoming Republic Bank to their shores I am fearful for the staff in those regions because history so far within three territories for 2019 have seen industrial disputes because of the treatment being meted out to staff by the leadership of this bank.
“So to those territories in the region, our brothers and sisters who have now seen Republic Bank come to their shores, I can only tell them to be on their guard and to be very mindful of what they’re discussing and how they get into discussions with this bank because we are seeing a trend of adverse labour relations and adverse labour practices,” Paul added.
Speaking specifically to today’s developments in Barbados, the deputy general secretary contended that Republic Bank was being “disingenuous” to the collective agreement.
He said staff had not been given a job evaluation in over 15 years, despite promises by the bank to do so.
He said when the union was finally presented with a completed report earlier this year, the bank insisted that the report be implemented at a future date, as opposed to being backdated to 2013 as initially agreed.
Additionally, he said the BWU and Republic Bank had tried unsuccessfully for two years to negotiate a salary increase for the period 2016 to 2019.
A source close to the situation said the bank was only willing to offer a 4.5 per cent increase over a three-year period.
Paul said the matter was referred to the chief labour officer in July, but following four meetings with the parties a resolution still was not reached.
He said the issue was now in the hands of Minister of Labour Colin Jordan.
Paul said what was especially disheartening about those salary discussions was the fact that Republic Bank had reported a profit of $100 million during that same period.
“Republic Bank, based on the financials we have seen carried in the media is a very profitable bank. The period that we are under negotiation for, the bank recorded over $100 million in profit.
“They’ve been able to declare dividends for their shareholders but we’re having numerous problems in terms of getting compensation for staff. So we’re still having a case in Barbados where the rich believe they should get richer and all the poor should get is work and that is an untenable position for the union and we will not accept such a position anywhere,” Paul said.
In a statement, Republic Bank’s marketing and corporate communication manager Sophia Allsopp-Cambridge said the bank’s operations were only minimally disrupted as a result of “unusually high staff absenteeism at certain branches”.
She said if the actions of staff were related to the ongoing negotiations then there were “premature and extreme”.
“We confirm that today’s reduced staff turnout was the first such occurrence since negotiations have been ongoing with the BWU for a new collective agreement. Negotiations have been referred to the Ministry of Labour. The parties have had a meeting with Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan and discussions are continuing.
“While the bank has not directly linked the employees’ action to the current wage negotiations, it is terming any such action as premature and extreme, given that negotiations are still underway,” the statement read.