Bauxite workers’ dismissal dispute heads to arbitration
An almost three-year-old dispute that led to the controversial sacking of 67 bauxite workers has been sent for arbitration, a statement from the union said over the weekend.
According to the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU), it is welcoming the decision of Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, who “saw it fit to exercise the discretion granted by virtue of Section 4 (1) (c) of the Labour Act Cap. 98:01, to invoke arbitration…”
The arbitration will, among other things, enquire into the difference between the union and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI-RUSAL), specifically to determine whether both have indulged in prudent industrial/labour relations practices, and whether or not they have complied with known labour and industrial relations laws and conventions on a number of critical issues.
The issues relate to the wages dispute between the company and the union for 2009.
Also to be arbitrated is the “dispute which led to the suspension of 67 workers who protested unsafe working condition at the company’s operation during the period May 2009.”
There have been several protests since 2009, and a number of international organizations and unions were written to with complaints about the seeming reluctance of government to intervene.
RUSAL has operations in Aroaima and Kwakwani, two areas in West Berbice.
In addition to the 67 workers being dismissed in December 2009, the arbitration will also examine the dispute between RUSAL and the union with respect to the dismissal of five employees - Winsworth Blair, Elmiton McAlmont, Laurel George, Marcel Odonoghu and Lennox Daw.
According to the union, the five had protested conditions of storage of food material in areas allegedly infested with rodents and roaches, and the use of the said food materials in the kitchen to prepare meals for staff at the Aroaima location.
The arbitration will also examine the alleged threat of workers by the General Manager of BCGI, Ruslan Volokhov, on May 8, 2011, who were protesting the non-availability of potable water at the camp site in Aroaima.
According to the union, they were informed of the decision to take the arbitration route by a letter dated February 29.
“Conventions and laws are put in place to protect the weak from being exploited by the strong, mighty and lawless, and this is seen in the case of BCGI as it treats with the employees, their union, and their total disregard for laws, customs and practices within the Guyanese society.”
According to GB&GWU, the decision of the minister has to be seen as testimony of the workers’ resilience that “anything worth having is worth fighting for”.
“This new development coming after a valiant two and a half year struggle is benefit derived by the workers’ militancy and fight for their right to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining as enshrined in the ILO Conventions and the Laws of Guyana. These were and will remain the instruments guiding the struggle.”
The union warned that the struggle is far from over.
“The Minister’s decision begins another phase and the GB&GWU awaits the announcement of the Arbitrator(s) and modalities being put in place to begin the process. GB&GWU will push for this to be achieved soonest since justice delayed is justice denied.”
The union also disclosed that throughout the “dark period”, the solidarity of local sister unions and organizations – the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM), American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO) regional and international unions and organizations, UK-based Labour Start, political parties, the workers’ loved one, media, non-Guyanese and Guyanese from all walks of life, “kept us encouraged”.
“The union remains deeply appreciative for the part persons played and continue to play for justice and fair play. This was not only a struggle for bauxite workers; it was a struggle for Guyana and every Guyanese because BCGI/RUSAL behaviours threaten our laws, the citizens’ rights, and the nation’s sovereignty.”
The union said that though the battle has been long, grueling and still there is more distance to cover, it remains confident bauxite workers shall overcome. “For there shall be no relenting or retreating until the named matters are resolved, the country’s laws upheld, and the rights of every worker respected.”