-union says workers agreed for 75 to be retrenched
by Leonard Gildarie
Industrial tensions have escalated even further in the Berbice bauxite industry with the Russian-owned, RUSAL’ Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI), yesterday terminating its collective labour agreement with the Guyana Bauxite and Workers’ Union (GBWU).
However, the union, in a statement, said that its current Collective Labour Agreement is still in force.
Following a strike at the company’s Aroaima and Kwakwani locations since November 22 which has virtually shut down the operations, the union during a meeting yesterday with Chief Labour Officer, Yoganand Persaud and BCGI’s General Manager, Sergey Kostyuk, was handed a letter by the executive which signaled the company’s intentions to “derecognize” it.
Minister of Labour, Manzoor Nadir, acknowledging yesterday that he is aware of the company’s decision, said that from his information, RUSAL may be moving to poll its workers to determine where there is still confidence in the union’s representations.
The Minister, however, noted that there are procedures that the company has to follow.
On Monday, BCGI in a statement said that it may have to close its operations permanently in light of the union’s actions and falling prices for aluminum on the world market.
In the letter addressed to Charles Sampson, President of GBWU, RUSAL and dated December 1, 2009, the company said that it hereby “deems the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) entered into between the company, the Guyana Bauxite and Workers’ Union, and the Ministry of Labour dated the 4th April 2008, as terminated with immediate effect.”
RUSAL, between the two operations at Kwakwani and Aroaima, has over 500 workers. GBWU is the only union there.
According to the letter, the union on March 30, May 22 and on November 22, 2009 committed fundamental breaches to the CLA by causing “and/or directing that industrial action against the company, in gross breach of Article 46 of the CLA thereby causing the company to suffer severe loss and damage.”
RUSAL said that it regards the breaches as grave and serious and a repudiation of the CLA. “The company accepts this repudiation and regards the agreement as at an end.”
The letter also noted that further to the acceptance of the union’s repudiation of the CLA, and having regard to the “loss of confidence by the company in the union, and similar sentiments expressed by a number of workers of the company, the company will move to derecognize the union.”
Yesterday, the union’s President, Charles Sampson, its Branch Manager, Carlton Sinclair, and General Secretary, Leslie Gonsalves, during a visit to Kaieteur News, said that a planned meeting yesterday the Ministry of Labour was abandoned at the beginning when they were handed the letter.
“The company wanted to discuss resumption of work even as they give us a letter terminating the CLA. We have a valid, legal CLA and we are the union representing the workers.”
According to the officials, the letter is illegal.
So far, more than 50 striking workers who had been issued suspension letters at the start of the strike have since received letters dismissing them, the union claimed.
According to Sampson, the union has been working with the company in the beginning and when original demands for pay increase were pegged at 40 per cent, the union had shifted this down to 10 per cent.
The union, vowing that the strike will continue, said that the letter from the company “will not stand up to the test”.
Meanwhile, the union explained a controversial agreement that has been widely criticized, by the government and others.
On November 7, the company as part of salary/wage negotiations had proposed three alternatives of which the union chose the first. The offer included a retroactive 10 per cent increase with a reduction of the workforce of approximately 14 per cent or 75 persons; a retroactive 10 per cent increase, with a reduction of the shift-hours from 12 to eight hours per day; or a lump sum payment of the annual Safety-Bonus tax by 31 December 2009.
According to the union yesterday, after consulting with its members, the first option was chosen.
“This is a decision that was taken with workers. We did not willy-nilly decide to do this on our own. The workers made that decision along with union.”
Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, last week urged that the company and union work out its differences. Luncheon had also noted that government was concerned with workers retaining their jobs.
The Ministry of Labour has also stepped in with Minister Manzoor Nadir strongly criticizing the union for reportedly accepting that 75 workers are to be sent home from the mining company as part of a deal.
On Monday, BCGI issued a statement announcing that it may close operations permanently.
The company lashed out at the GBWU, questioning “the wisdom of negotiating agreements which are promptly breached at the convenience of this union. It also questions whether it can continue to deal with a union which breaks solemn commitments whenever they are inconvenient, and whose officials seem activated by malice towards the company as they engage in total untruths and distortions wherever possible, which are extremely harmful to the company. BCGI may therefore have no option but to close its operations permanently.”
According to the company, work has completely stopped at Aroaima, and a vessel which was coming to collect bauxite had to be diverted to Brazil.
“BCGI’s management is deeply disappointed at the manifested bad faith of the GBWU in negotiating the CLA (Collective Labour Agreement), and then repeatedly refusing to adhere to it. The company is examining its options and may not resume operations.”
The statement noted that aluminium prices have taken a battering over the past 18 months on world markets. In Jamaica, where the company’s parent RUSAL also has operations, plants have been completely closed, throwing thousands of persons out of work.
“Management is focused on preservation of the enterprise and the jobs it provides. This has become increasingly challenging in the present world economic climate. The GBWU had demanded an increase of 40 per cent retroactive to January 2009. The company declined, contending that it could ill afford increases.”
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