finance minister: Larry Howai

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Howai concerned over RBC layoffs

By Carla Bridglal carla.bridglal@trinidadexpress.com

Finance Minister Larry Howai yesterday said he was concerned about customer confidence in RBC Royal Bank after the bank’s implementation of restructuring strategies, including several layoffs.
“It is something the company will have to manage, but I am confident the management will be able to deal with it,” he told the Express at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad), Port of Spain.
Despite the group’s recent spate of layoffs, Howai said he believed RBC is still strong, but needs to improve its efficiency and returns to shareholders.
“This last year wasn’t a good one for the bank and they need to take corrective action,” Howai told the Express yesterday at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad), Port of Spain.
RBC Royal Bank (Caribbean) is part of the Royal Bank of Canada, and is that country’s largest financial institution.
In 2008, RBTT Bank was acquired by RBC for nearly $14 billion.
Howai said while he had not met with the bank, the Central Bank had, and he had been assured by Central Bank governor Jwala Rambarran that RBC has a sound strategy.
Asked for an update yesterday at a signing ceremony at St Augustine for the handover of ROYTEC to the University of the West Indies UWI, RBC’s CEO Suresh Sookoo said: “It is a bit of streamlining to serve our clients better. If you look at 2013, it is time to get back to being more efficient and attracting better markets in Trinidad and Tobago.”
On Friday, one third of the bank’s Business Banking Unit— about 20 people—was sent home.
This followed a similar cut in November, when several members of the Private Banking Unit were cut loose and their positions integrated into other operations.
The Express was told by a former employee that workers were given very little notice. She said a circular had gone out to staff about a month before saying the bank was looking at restructuring for efficiency and to deliver a better standard of service, but nothing specific.
It was a surprise to many, then, when at a staff meeting with the human resource department they were told they were to be relieved of their posts.
The employee, who had lost her job in November, said she had also gotten very short notice, and was put on alert when she realised colleagues with similar portfolios at two branches were let go before she was.
“It is awful. Luckily I had started to put things in order before, but still, in six months I will have to look for something ... it’s a big loss of income,” she said, adding she had worked for the bank over 30 years, but was hoping to retire in two more.
She added that the bank’s claim that it was helping former employees with finding new posts (within the bank) was “garbage”.
“They have their own people, they know who they want to keep. They said when we left they would e-mail us potential jobs; I’ve been at the bank so long and I know how to do all aspects of banking but I’ve been on several interviews (back at RBC) since then and I’ve not gotten through,” she said.
Employee and corporate communications regional manager Nicole Duke-Westfield had told the Express in an e-mail on Saturday that as part of the bank’s efforts to improve and strengthen business performance and competitiveness, it had to make “some difficult decisions”, including some degree of job impact in Trinidad.
“RBC has been working to manage this impact and achieve efficiencies through varying means eg, attrition, early retirement,” she said.
The Express was told some of the benefits included being able to keep staff accounts for three months, consumer loans at the same rate for three months and mortgages at staff rates for two years.
Banking, Insurance and General Workers’ Union (BIGWU) president Vincent Cabrera told the Express in a telephone interview that despite not being accredited as the recognised union for RBC employees, BIGWU will still take the matter to court on behalf of the affected workers.
He said the union was asking the retrenched workers to come to a meeting at its Barataria headquarters on Saturday at 3 p.m. to discuss their grievances and a possible recourse.
He said when the former RBTT was bought over by RBC, workers had been assured there would be no staff reduction; instead what has happened is “a big corporate lie”.
“RBC has been conducting an imperialistic type of industrial relations (since their return in 2008). We intend to fight them on their continued retrenchment, ” he said.
—additional reporting
by Michelle Loubon
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