GGMC warns of exploitation of interior workers
The Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) on average receives at least five complaints daily of labour violations in the mining and logging industries. One of the most popular complaints investigated by GGMC is the non-payment of salaries.
The Commission is currently investigating a common case of a female cook being accused of theft and chased out of the interior without payment.
Vanessa Stephens, on Wednesday, made a complaint to GGMC against a shop owner/ dredge operator for withholding two months’ salaries. The woman is hoping that GGMC would help resolve the matter since she has no immediate financial security to support four teenage children.
According to Stephens, in March she ventured into Tamakay Backdam, Region Seven, to work as a cook /shop assistant for $150,000 monthly. She alleged that after two months in the interior her employer accused her of stealing and sent her packing without money.
“When she (the employer) come in back the Saturday she start cuss up and bring in the police claiming that gold was lost…I told her it cannot be me because I don’t work in the dredge… She brings in police and tells them beat me up to find money… They search me and didn’t find any money but she wanted me to leave the place,” Stephens alleged.
Stephens said that her journey out of the backdam was aided by kindhearted individuals. She recounted that her request for her payment was brushed-off by the woman in the presence of the police.
She said, “After hearing my story, someone gave me $12,500 to come out of the backdam…when I reach the landing a man gave me $4,000 for a room for the night and another boy gave me $12,500 to get to Parika…Even at Parika I get a drop to Canal.
The only financial assistance the woman received was from the Guyana Women Miners’ Organization. Stephens became aware of the organization through GGMC.
As part of the Commission’s investigations the woman’s former employer’s mother was contacted.
According to a GGMC Official, while both men and women complain of non-payment, the majority of the complaints received are from men. GGMC’s involvement in the matter sometimes sees complainants receiving their money. In some cases the parties settle the matter without informing the GGMC.
The official emphasized that persons seeking employment in the interior should avoid verbal agreements. “We need to advocate to persons to be more businesslike in their jobs…” Put most job agreements in writing.”
One way of doing that is to purchase a privilege or certificate of registration from the GGMC. The official explained that there are certificates for various categories of work including cooks and excavator operators.
This certificate of registration enables GGMC to know who the employer is and the employment period. The employer would have to endorse the document before employment and after termination of services.
However, the refusal of some employers to sign the document has deterred many persons from taking this course. The official suggested that should be an indication to persons that the potential employers are not trustworthy.
Not all non-payment is intentional since gold business is one of continuous investment. The official explained that some employees may work on a dredge for five months. For the first three months the operation is going well and the worker leaves his salary with the employer. But in the next two months the operation is not doing as well as before and the worker wants to leave. At this point the employer does not have cash and the feud begins.
The Commission cannot tackle labour violations, particularly non-payment alone and needs the help of the Ministry of Labour.
The official suggested, “The Ministry of Labour needs a Task Force and the GGMC could work together…We could provide all the complaints in categories and in districts and let us deal with these people.”