Labour Representative in the Senate, Andre Lewis, who is also President General of the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU) has called for government to bring to parliament an amendment to the Banking Act, in an effort to secure the rights of the employees of the Bank of Nova Scotia in the acquisition with Republic Bank.
He made the call at the sitting of the Upper House of Parliament at Mt. Wheldale on Wednesday.
According to Sen. Lewis, section 156 or 157 of the Banking Act is disadvantaging to financial services workers, as in the case of the employees of Scotia Bank who are finding it difficult to seek termination allowance in the finalisation of the acquisition between the two financial institutions.
The trade union figure said the section takes away the right of the workers granted to them under the Employment Act.
“In the case of the Grenada Labour Code, the worker has the first call, so this is discriminatory in our view. Under the Grenada Labour Code the workers employed in the institution that is being gotten rid off through sale, change of name etcetera, has the option to go over to the Successor Employer or ought not to go over and get termination allowance…”, he told the Upper House.
“…However, the bank is relying on a section on the Banking Act and we in the labour movement, do not share that view, we do not share the view that the section that the bank is relying on has merit, but Scotia is relying on this part of the Banking act to indicate that the workers in the financial institution do not have the option of seeking termination, which is discriminatory relative to the other workforce,” he said.
Sen. Lewis told the house on Wednesday that he has engaged the government to bring an amendment to the Banking Act to safeguard workers’ rights.
“I have written as I have indicated to the Prime Minister, because all other workers in Grenada under the Labour Code, under section 45(2) of the Employment Act, under Successor Employer has that right; in other words, a worker cannot be sold. If I apply to Firm A because I am interested in having a career with Firm A, in the case Scotia, I never choose to apply to Republic for whatever reason and it turns out, that the owners of Republic and Scotia decided to go into an arrangement where Republic has bought out Scotia, the argument advanced by Scotia is that they can sell that worker and the essential difference between – and that is the philosophy now – the essential difference between a free man and a slave is to determine, I do not want to be sold.
“…The bank is saying, however, you have the right, you can say you are not coming over, but you will not be entitled to any benefit. So, I who have given 25 years to Scotia through no fault of mine, the owners have decided Mr President to go into a financial arrangement, and if I want to exercise my option of not going over as contained under the Labour Code, the bank is arguing and we do not share that view, the bank is arguing that the Banking Act does not permit this.
Sen. Lewis noted that Antigua which is also in the process of finalising the acquisition between Scotia and Republic has already gone ahead and made the necessary amendments to the Banking Act for its workers.
He said: “What did Antigua do? And I want to use Antigua as an example because it is a regional issue that we are trying to address through different forms. In order to strengthen the workers’ argument in Antigua, it is not that the Antigua government or the Antigua Labour Movement agrees with the bank but Antigua has made sure, as of two weeks ago, through their discussions, they made sure by deleting that section of the Banking Act and not addressing the aspect that deals with solvency because although this is important, it is not of critical importance right now because it is not something that is confronting the workers. What is confronting the workers in Scotia is the issue of the Successor Employer, so Antigua has found a way of making doubly sure and that is what I have raised and we would like to be addressed”.
Sen. Lewis told Parliament that if this issue is not addressed now there can be devastating effects for the employees of other financial institution in the future.
“So, I look forward to government’s concurrence in bringing that amendment urgently to secure the workers of the Bank of Nova Scotia, who have no intention or who want to exercise that option of not being sold over to Republic Bank and this is of critical importance to us.
“…This is of crucial concern and why it must be of concern, although it concerns Scotia today, the same would apply for any financial institution. So, be it a credit union, be it a bank, any financial institution where the ownership changes, the workers of the business that is being sold, or change of name or lease will be disadvantaged, relative to section 45 (2) of the Employment Act.
“So, we are trying on the legal front and through the government’s intervention to see what can be done because the actions of the Technical and Allied Workers Union shall be engaging, will have consequences for the financial institution because we shall not limit to just Bank of Nova Scotia. Because all financial institutions will be subjected to this and therefore, we have started engagement with the other unions that have workers in the financial institutions, so it is of critical importance for us to address this matter.
Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Minister of Climate Resilence, Sen. Simon Stiell offered a token response to the statement made on the issue.
He said: “This is a commercial arrangement and negotiations are ongoing and we hope that with any industrial dispute, an amicable agreement can be reached between employer and employee and those discussions however tense they may be, are taking place and both parties are at the negotiating table.
“So that is a very, very good start but government is sensitive to the welfare of the workers within the sector here in Grenada and if and when the time is right for government to make statements or intervene, will certainly do so, to protect what is in the best interest of workers and employers. It’s a fair settlement that is required by both parties”, he added.