May 25, 2009 News
– union’s Branch Chairman arrested
Operations at the Rusal Bauxite Company, Aroaima location have come to a halt after over 200 workers downed tools on Saturday, claiming that their occupational health and safety concerns are being violated by the company.
The issue stems from the expressed concerns by truck drivers of the company about their conditions of work.
Reports reaching this newspaper stated that the drivers had complained about the engine heat emanating from the truck, which resulted in at least two of them falling sick, one of them being hospitalized with a stoke.
The company then took a decision to issue letters to the remaining truck drivers, advising them that they will only be paid for four hours’ work until the trucks are fixed.
But according to the workers, this is a breach of the labour agreement signed by the company and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GBGWU) since the workers are not responsible for repairing the trucks and they should not be made to suffer as a result.
The workers cited the 1997 Industrial Health and Safety Act which gives an employee certain rights should they refuse to work if their health and life are at risk.
“If a worker reasonably believes that any equipment, machine, device or article will be of serious or possible danger to life…a worker may refuse to work in these situations,” Leslie Gonsalves, Acting General Secretary of the GBGWU told this newspaper.
The workers are convinced that it is the company’s right to ensure the safety of workers, and workers should not be made to lose pay if systems are not in place to ensure this.
This led to the entire staff at the company’s Aroaima operations downing tools in solidarity with the truck drivers.
“We are protesting the procedure. What is to be followed is that employees should remain on the job and paid as normal while the situation is rectified. They should not be made to suffer for what is not their fault,” Calvin Sinclair, Branch Chairman of the GBBWU told this newspaper on Saturday.
After efforts to meet with management on Saturday proved futile, the employees upped their industrial action yesterday with a protest.
However, matters took a turn for the worse when the Branch Chairman of the union was detained by the police in the area.
He was subsequently released after about 30 minutes in custody.
According to Gonsalves, the company has violated their collective bargaining agreement as it relates to the action taken by the workers.
He explained that on Saturday he had written letters to the company’s administration seeking a meeting to resolve the issue, but there was no response.
“In the event of any action such as strikes, go-slow, picketing or lock-outs, or any action that will interfere with the operations of the company, senior officials of the company along with the central of branch official of the union shall as a matter of urgency, expeditiously seek to have the situation return to normalcy,” Gonsalves said.
The workers said they are prepared for the long haul, since from all indications the company’s management is not prepared to meet with them soon.
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