Strike threat hangs over Scotia as wage talks reach crucial stage

Strike threat hangs over Scotia as wage talks reach crucial stage

Senior staff reporter

Friday, November 08, 2019

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DOWNTOWN Kingston Scotiabank customers could find it difficult to access regular banking services next week if current wage talks break down and unionised staff carry out threats to strike.

For nearly a year now the closure of the Duke Street ScotiaCentre for refurbishing has created confusion for thousands of customers who have been forced to use the King Street branch, which is to be closed permanently.

But next week the situation could become nightmarish as the bank's approximately 1,000 unionised staff have threatened to strike unless the company makes an acceptable offer to their union, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), when they resume negotiations on a new wage and fringe benefits package on Monday.

BITU President Senator Kavan Gayle admitted that there is trouble ahead, but insisted that the negotiations with the bank's management have been ongoing since 2018, which he regards as “too long”.

He said that the workers have been distracted over the past year by numerous changes to the bank's Caribbean apparatus, which resulted in issues like the loss of 100 positions in Jamaica and the removal of certain strategic services from Kingston to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Senator Gayle said that, while the changes have been painful for the workers, the outcome has seen improvements in virtually every area of the bank's operations, so it is time that the workers' suffering be relieved.

The union and the workers have rejected an offer of 4.5 per cent increase in the first year of a proposed new two-year agreement, and a further four per cent in the second year, and are demanding increases of nine per cent and 8.5 per cent, instead.

“We believe they have the ability to pay much more than they have offered the workers. The bank made $9.8 billion in profits up to July this year,” Gayle told the Jamaica Observer.

He also pointed out that while the bank is insisting that its offer is based on the increase in inflation, the union is insisting that the inflation rate cannot be the only basis for pay increases for workers at this time.

“The bank is making huge adjustments and salaries need to be reviewed in light of the added responsibilities being given to the staff in most areas. They are working excessive hours to meet the increased demand on the bank's services at its branches, and especially at the King Street branch where they are under severe pressure from customers, for example,” Gayle told the Observer.

He said that another key issue affecting the negotiations is the union's insistence on increased training and coaching for the workers in a situation where their job description is changing regularly and they are being given added responsibility.

He noted that while the bank has embarked on a major expansion of the use of technology in its services, the workers are not being given the necessary upskilling or reskilling to meet these challenges.

“... The bank is not entertaining that policy direction, so the workers are threatening to take industrial action next week. The bank asked for more time, and we have asked for more information. The negotiations resume Monday and they continue on Tuesday and, if there is no agreement or improvement in their offers, we intend to take action,” Senator Gayle said yesterday.

Scotia Group Jamaica President and CEO David Noel announced the closure of the historic King Street branch last November, requiring its customers to share the Duke Street facility with its customers. But the Duke Street branch, which was closed for a $40 million refurbishing project to accommodate the excess numbers, is still closed one year later.

Noel said the closure of the King Street branch was in line with restructuring operations being undertaken to better serve customers and improve operational efficiency, as they have been showing a growing preference for digital channels which offer cost-effective transactions and the Duke Street branch would soon become the centre of the digital invasion.

In July, the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) confirmed that it had placed a cease order on the refurbishing operations at Duke Street for breaches of the Building Act and code.

Scotiabank's officers have since met with the KSAMC, and it is understood that the matter has been addressed in terms of the project going forward.

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