By Orville Williams
Staff at the Friars Hill Road and Factory Road branches of the Caribbean Union Bank (CUB) are expected to continue working today, ahead of an expected recommendation from the Labour Department, following Wednesday’s protest action by the employees over several issues, including stalled negotiations for salary increases.
The demonstration by the employees affected teller services at both branches, but Samuel James, President of the Antigua Free Trade Union that is representing the employees, told Observer then that they had no other option than to strike, as the bank’s management refused to “take them seriously”.
Discussions between the union and the bank started two years ago, according to James, and included salary increases, payment for unused sick days and mutual separation packages. Those talks, he said, were dragging along almost aimlessly, as the bank seemingly had no intention of meeting their requests with any urgency.
He pointed to the “hypocrisy” of the bank allegedly telling them that it could not satisfy the salary increase requests due to low finances, but going ahead with the opening of a new branch and continuing to participate in sponsorship activities.
James confirmed that the union met with the bank yesterday, but said a consensus could not be reached.
“The meeting did take place, but regrettably, at this point in time it seems like both sides are holding out. The bank did not come with any different position than it had before and we are maintaining our position.
“What will happen is that on the issue of the salary increase, the Labour Department will make a recommendation by [Friday] and on the remaining few items – including paternity leave and mutual separation – by [the middle of] next week, we should have [additional] recommendations from the Labour Department as to how these matters should be resolved.”
James insisted that, despite the urgency of their requests, the union is open to negotiate with the bank and, as such, the staff will report to work today.
He added that any further protest action will depend on the recommendation from the Labour Department, as well as whether both the employees and the bank will accept said recommendation.
“The Labour Department can only make a recommendation, but it cannot compel either party to accept [it]. So, the recommendation could very well be rejected, depending on what it is, or the parties may find [it] favourable and simply agree.
“[The latter] means it would bring an end to the impasse and there would be no need for any further action on the part of the employees and the union.
“We are holding out and hoping that good sense will prevail and that there’s a good recommendation coming out of the Labour Department which is accepted by the parties. Outside of that, we’ll then have to determine what our next course of action will be,” James explained.
CUB’s management have yet to publicly comment on the situation.