Govt. rejects “No Confidence Motion” against Minister Nadir
… riotous behaviour responsible for bauxite workers’ dismissal – PM
By Gary Eleazar
In a lengthy heated debate last evening in the presence of several labour union leaders in the National Assembly, the discord surrounding the dismissal of some 57 bauxite workers left even more questions than answers as the Prime Minister told the House that it was the riotous and threatening behaviour of the striking workers which caused their dismissal.
The historic motion of “No Confidence” against Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir which was tabled by Shadow Minister Basil Williams alleged that Nadir erred in not utilizing the powers which the law reposes in him to act on behalf of the embattled workers.
In his opening presentation, Williams accused the Minister of blatantly breaching the Constitution of Guyana, as well as noting that RUSAL breached the Collective Labour Agreement it had with the workers and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union.
According to Williams, despite pleas by several entities the Minister continuously refused to act on behalf of the workers.
The Shadow Labour Minister told the House that every Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) is enforceable by law, and further, the Minister did not require the consent of either affected party to set up an arbitration panel to rule on the matter.
Williams pointed out that in December last, the workers of the bauxite company proceeded on industrial action which resulted in 57 of them being dismissed.
He said that the Minister by his inaction has demonstrated a gross dereliction of duties, not understanding that the lives of persons are in jeopardy.
Prime Minister Samuel Hinds in his defence of the Minister said first of all that the motion was misguided and that Williams was clutching at straws.
He pointed first to the fact that the issue of the wages negotiation and difficulties of the company has to be seen in the context of the global financial crisis which saw the demand for the resource plummet.
The PM explained that the Union was offered three options when negotiations for an increase in wages were called.
He explained that the Union chose to have the workers get up to a 10 per cent increase but it also entailed the retrenchment of 75 workers.
The Prime Minister said that he advised that this decision be documented in writing.
On November 13 last, the General Secretary of the Union wrote to RUSAL indicating of their acceptance of that offer, cognizant of the fact that 75 workers be retrenched.
He said that when the time came to sign the agreement they refused and a letter was written to the Labour Minister on November 20 and a meeting was set for the 24th of that month.
Two days later the workers went on strike.
Hinds said that some 142 workers went on strike and it was as a result of the threatening and riotous behavior which caused some 57 workers to be dismissed and not because they were affiliated with any union.
He said that some of the persons who were taken back on the job belonged to the Union.
“We agree that the company has no right to de-recognise the union,” said Hinds.
The debate took another twist when Alliance For Change leader Raphael Trotman took the floor and told the house that what the Prime Minister did not say was why the Union did not sign the Agreement which the bauxite company had put forward.
According to Trotman, in the option that the company put forward, there was mention of retroactive payment but in the actual agreement which the Union was asked to sign, it stipulated that this retroactive payment was only for 2009.
Trotman said that the issue at hand is if there was a dereliction of duty on the part of the Minister adding that even if the Minister was satisfied with the fact that he was not in breach of any law, the law is subject to interpretation, and he should have moved to the court for a ruling.
Trotman said that what is being called into question is if the minister did all he can for the people of Guyana.
“The Minister and the Government should have stood up and done more for the people of Guyana…No company has a right to come here and tell us we don’t have rights.”
The AFC leader also said that what is being lost is the fact that there is a human side to the entire debacle.
Trotman said that he visited the affected community and witnessed the anguish of the people.
He spoke of the four patrols of the “black clothes squad” that were transported into the area and the fact that the people were being terrorized.
“I witness the pain and anguish of people who did not have food to put on their plates.”
Trotman said that the issue is what if anything at all, “or what more Nadir could have done.”
He said that what is strange also was for the Prime Minister to have the acceptance of the offer by the company to be documented in writing, which points to the fact that, “Nadir’s hands are tied.”
Trotman pointed also to the occasion when the Prime Minister intervened in May last year when he called on the Chief Labour Officer to get involved in a situation.
“Govt. is prepared to act when it suits them.”
Presidential Adviser and Member of Parliament Odinga Lumumba in his presentation launched into a tirade against the PNCR, but not before pointing out to Trotman that ever since January of last year, the Union knew that the retroactive payment would only be for 2009.
The Subject Minister (Nadir) who was under fire, in his defence, told the House that the opposition arguments were, “nice sounding” but very erroneous.
He pointed to the fact that the very CLA that was being touted as enforceable in law, clearly indicates that the workers could not go on strike.
He said that the opposition had failed to build a case against him, adding that there were too many loopholes in their arguments calling the motion a political stunt on the part of Williams.
Leader of the Opposition Robert Corbin in his presentation told the House that the government speakers on the motion failed to address any of the issues that the motion dealt with, such as the fact that the Minister flagrantly breached the Constitution as well as the laws pertaining to the subject.
The Opposition Leader also slammed the administration as engaging in blatant discrimination, pointing to the fact that the responses to strikes in the sugar industry are very different.
He said that the Government speakers were just throwing out, “red herrings” and skirting around the issue at heart.
“The issue is whether workers’ interests are properly addressed.”
He spoke of the numerous attempts by union leaders, international bodies, as well as himself, to call on the Minister to address the issue, all without even acknowledgment of receipt of the appeals.
Corbin said that rather than hearing what is being done to address the plight of workers, they only heard a justification of RUSAL’s action.