By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Communications and Public Managers Union (BCPMU) officials yesterday said the union would take legal action against the Central Bank’s board of directors for “unilaterally” altering the terms of employment, causing the bank’s pension plan to come “under attack.”
BCPMU President Richard Thompson, with support from the Union of Central Bankers (UCB) and other unions, yesterday accused the bank of breaching their collective bargaining agreement by failing to have “meaningful and adequate” consultation with the union with respect to “any changes proposed to the pension plan.”
Mr Thompson said the bank’s “capricious and irrational decision” has affected over 200 employees, and alleged that some employees had lost up to $30,000 annually.
Making his statements at a press conference at Bahamas Public Service Union headquarters on Wulff Road, Mr Thompson announced the union’s decision to take legal action against the bank for its actions, and also called on the government to “accelerate its commitment” in introducing legislation to protect pensions.
“We want justice for our members, and will not sit idly by and allow our members after contributing for 20, 30, 40 years, to retire from the bank, without the benefits to which they are rightly entitled and become a burden on the social services system of the Bahamas,” he said. “The unions are united and prepared to take every action in pursuance of justice.”
He added: “As a union, we call on the government to accelerate its commitment to bring forth legislation for the protection of pensions. We want to put to the citizens of the Bahamas on notice that this is a national issue, and that if the unions allow this capricious and irrational decision by the bank to go unchallenged, then at the point of retirement some appointed board members can simply, by the stroke of a pen, erase the benefits that you have contributed to for 20 to 40 years.”
According to Mr Thompson, Central Bank employees have enjoyed a “defined benefit pension plan,” of which employees contribute five per cent of their salaries.
Mr Thompson said that in the agreements that the unions have with the Central Bank, the bank committed not to take any unilateral action to change the terms of employment. Secondly, Mr Thompson said that under those agreements, the bank promised to consult the unions with respect to “any changes proposed to the pension plan.”
However, Mr Thompson claimed that over the past four years, the Central Bank has attempted to “alter the terms” of the pension fund, first with the integration clause, then a “proposed change from defined benefit to defined contribution,” and finally a “myriad of changes” to the existing defined benefit plan before making final changes in 2013.
Mr Thompson said the union had tried to engage the bank’s governor and the board in consultation, but all of their efforts were “thwarted.” He also said the union has been to the Department of Labour but was not “adequately or meaningfully consulted.”
Nonetheless, Mr Thompson said the bank’s “justification” for the changes was “financial constraints” and the “inability to maintain the status quo” of the original pension arrangement.
However, Mr Thompson said the fact that the board’s decision to implement the changes was never presented to the union for further consideration suggested that it was never the bank’s intention to “dialogue in good faith,” and suggested that the bank had “already made up its mind to implement such changes without regards for the unions or the employees who contributed significantly to the plan.”
As such, Mr Thompson said the union had enlisted the services of attorney Alfred Sears and was seeking legal action against the bank for its actions.
However, Mr Thompson said the union would not make any “hasty” decisions in view of the legal proceedings.
“We have a lot of confidence in the legal process, and we seek to monitor it closely and see where it is going,” he said. “We’re not going to be too hasty to take any action outside of that, but we believe the bank will fully understand their error and seek to correct that. We’re trying to give the bank the benefit of making the corrections.”
Mr Sears said a writ has been filed in court and will be served on the bank shortly.
“We have reviewed the situation, we have given our legal advice that the Central Bank is in breach of the (collective bargaining agreement), and we have been instructed to commence legal proceedings against Central Bank,” he said. “It is a critical expectation that the Bahamians that constitute the employees and the members of these two unions, have been looking for it. They’re entitled to it. It’s the feeling of our clients that this is a national issue, because the pension of our employees is really a fundamental property interest, and there should be a national legislation to secure and protect the pension rights of Bahamian workers.”