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Antigua govt responds to bank strike threat

ST. JOHN'S, Antigua--Government has accused one of the country's largest trade unions of trying to deliberately mislead bank employees into taking industrial action over the recently passed Banking Act.

In a statement issued after being "reliably informed" that Antigua and Barbuda Workers' Union (ABWU) was encouraging staff members of eight commercial banks to strike Monday morning, the government said the planned protest action was based on "deliberate misreading" of the definition of "officer" in the legislation.

The Gaston Browne-led administration said that "the attempt to mislead bank workers into thinking that they are at risk of being unfairly targeted is a deliberate political ploy" and the employees were being used as pawns.

Condemning any industrial action based on false premises and insisting the move would "unfairly and unjustly harm innocent depositors, businesses and the economy of the country" as well as bank workers and their families, the government said: "Staff members of the eight commercial banks are encouraged to reject any effort to make them pawns in a political game and to go to their jobs on Monday morning, as usual."

The controversial Act has been passed in several other member states of the East Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU), with all eight expected to adopt it. According to officials, it is intended to make bank deposits by customers safer.

However, bank workers in Antigua and Barbuda are concerned it could disadvantage them. Prior to the passing of the legislation – which gives regulators wide-ranging powers to appoint and dismiss directors, grant licences and take action to prevent the collapse of banks in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) – hundreds of them signed a petition calling for changes.

In addition to concerns about the definition of "officer," the workers and their trade union also expressed worry over issues of severance.

Addressing the definition issue in its statement, the government stressed that within the new law "officer" was limited to the president, the vice president, the chief executive officer, the chief operating officer, the chief accountant, the chief auditor, the chief investment officer, the chief compliance officer, or the chief risk officer of commercial banks.

"Staff members of commercial banks who do not hold any of these positions do not fall within the definition; therefore, those staff members need not fear any provision in the law. Clearly, the law seeks to prevent 'officers' in banks from using staff members as their surrogates to undertake actions that usually fall within the job descriptions of those officers. A staff member in a commercial bank who performs daily routines does not fall within the net of 'officers' whose actions and decisions are intended to be captured by the Banking Act 2015," it said.

The government also accused the ABWU of "intentionally lending an inaccurate misreading to the adjusted language involving the severance pay to which workers are entitled."

It insisted that Parliament had added the words "severance pay" to the Act, which made it clear that workers in banks would receive the full severance to which they are entitled, should a bank be liquidated. ~ Caribbean360 ~

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