RUSAL’s arbitration block upheld by High Court
Plans by government to implement arbitration proceedings into RUSAL’s industrial unrest issues have been foiled after the High Court on Wednesday ruled in favour of the company.
According to RUSAL’s local subsidiary, Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI), it had to seek recourse in the High Court to ensure that the arbitration ordered by the Minister of Labour, between the company and Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union, was in full compliance with the laws of Guyana, and truly served the best interests of its workers.
It will be recalled that on March 19, Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang, granted the Orders Nisi, the effect of which were to prohibit the arbitration from proceeding.
On Wednesday, when the matter was fixed for hearing, lawyers for the minister and the union informed the Court that after reading the company’s complaint, they were unable to answer it and would agree to the Orders Nisi being made absolute.
“After hearing them, the Honourable Chief Justice made the Orders Nisi issued on 19 March 2012, absolute,” BCGI said in a release yesterday.
BCGI had failed to turn up on March 13 for an arbitration meeting called by the Ministry of Labour.
In March, the company insisted that it was concerned at what appeared to be departures from the laws of Guyana by the Minister of Labour – namely, section 4(1) of the Labour Act Chapter 98:01.
The company which has operations at Aroaima and Kwakwani, Upper Berbice, Region 10, insisted that it would not engage in any action that at some time in the future could be considered unlawful, damaging to the interests of the majority of its workers, and setting an unfortunate precedent.
Following the company’s no-show at the government-called arbitration meeting, head of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union, Lincoln Lewis, had accused RUSAL of continuing its old ways of disrespecting the union and “raping” the laws of Guyana. The union threatened to rope in political parties in Parliament over the issue.
According to Lewis, minutes prior to the arbitration meeting, the company’s lawyer sent a letter informing the Secretary of the Arbitration Tribunal that he was unable to represent RUSAL’s management who were abroad, since he too was out of the jurisdiction.
Lewis had pointed out that prior to the arbitration, RUSAL’s management had indicated that they would have been out of the country. Subsequently, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, the Labour Minister through the Secretary of the Arbitration Tribunal, had informed both parties they could be represented by anyone.
The March 13 arbitration meeting commenced as scheduled at the Ministry of Labour boardroom despite the absence of the company’s management and lawyer. The grouse between the union and company started in 2009, with the company accused of arbitrarily suspending 67 workers, who protested operating with defective mining equipment.
Further, in December 2009, RUSAL took a decision to discontinue engaging the union, stating that it had terminated the Collective Labour Agreement and measures would be put in place to de-recognise the union. However, since then the company has refused to deal with the union on any issue, even though the body represents over 300 employees.
Lewis had noted that the company’s effort failed, since according to the Laws of Guyana, no company could de-recognise a union, not even the Ministry of Labour. In fact, an attempt by RUSAL to replace the Union with one they created, was rejected by the workers, Lewis said.
Locally, there have been a number of protests, especially from Region 10 residents, over the 2009 dismissals of the workers.