The top brass of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations (CTUSAB) is pleading with lawmakers to stop commercial banks from “exploiting” residents through a range of bank fees, which they claim are now creating additional hardship for workers.
President of CTUSAB Edwin O’Neal said the trade union movement was very concerned about the various bank charges that were being imposed on customers.
As such, he said the union had raised the matter at the level of the social partnership with the view of having serious discussions on how the issue of bank fees could be addressed.
Meanwhile, General Secretary of CTUSAB Dennis de Peiza has charged that some banks were being “wicked” by putting a limit on the minimum amount individuals could withdraw from some types of accounts. He did not name the banks.
However, President of the Barbados Bankers’ Association (BBA) Anthony Clerk told Barbados TODAY he was not aware of any limits on the minimum withdrawal.
At the same time, Clerk said there was no evidence of increases in bank fees in recent years, and that fees were necessary to run the banks’ operations and to encourage more digital transactions.
During a press conference on Tuesday O’Neal said “Fees in Barbados are causing serious disadvantage to workers. In fact, given the instances that have been reported to us, it is theoretically possible for your savings to be denuded or wiped out by the application of fees.”
O’Neal said while he accepted that the banking system had to undergo changes over time, it was difficult to accept that they are now charging consumers to “save” with the bank.
“Those fees vary from bank to bank as I am sure you are aware. They pose hardship to those who can least afford. I am told from on high that this imposition of charges is in keeping with modern banking practices. I have difficulty when modernity changes the character of the institution and it is no longer what it used to be,” said O’Neal.
In addition, he said, people were being forced to use commercial banks and open certain types of accounts given that “in most places now the payroll is tied to a bank”.
Meanwhile, De Peiza insisted that it was “fundamentally wrong” for banks to be putting a limit on the minimum amount that individuals were able to withdraw from their account at the Automated Banking Machines (ABMs) while over-the-counter transactions were being discouraged.
“This, to my mind, is what I call a wicked type of approach that needs to be addressed and this is why it is called exploitation at the highest level. I would hope that our parliamentarians, our government of the day, our senators will stand up and speak to matters like this forcefully because this is unacceptable,” he said.
DePeiza said he understood that while banks had to make money to run their operations it should not be done “to the full exploitation of the masses”.
He also criticized the practice of banks not cashing cheques for individuals if they did not have an account with that bank, adding that not everyone had the luxury of placing a cheque on a bank account and waiting days for it to be cleared.
He said CTUSAB was speaking out on the matter now because “we cannot sit back and watch the massive exploitation of this country and wait conveniently until somebody decides to discuss it”.
However, Clerk defended the bank charges, saying they have not gone up in recent years.
“I am not aware that bank fees generally, have gone up over the last couple of years. Most banks charge a fee for maintaining an account and . . . I don’t think generally the fees have gone up for the masses,” said Clerk. He added that it was the fees for commercial entities that “might have increased” recently.
In relation to fees charged for using the ABM of another financial institution, Clerk suggested that it was a way of encouraging people to use the infrastructure that their banks have put in place.
One way to cut back on that charge, he said, was to limit the number of times one had to go to the ABM. He added that all the commercial banks had a number of ABMs across the island to make it easy for customers to locate the one that belonged to their financial institution.
Additionally, he explained that the transaction fees that were charged by commercial banks could be avoided if those same transactions were done electronically.
“Banks spend a lot of money on putting electronic means in place so there is a charge for in-bank transactions because they are giving you electronic alternatives that are free. The investments in these things are very expensive,” said Clerk.
Pensioners are not charged for over-the-counter transactions.
He pointed out that the low level of interest currently being given on accounts was as a result of the demand and supply ratio, adding that the interest rate on lending was also at an all-time low. (MM)