– 40% workers want to leave bauxite union
Bauxite Company Guyana Inc. (BCGI), owned by Russia’s RUSAL, a major bauxite player in the globe, says that almost 40 per cent of its workers want to pull out from the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU).
And a Trinidad union has joined in the fray, condemning the industrial standoff between the union and the company and calling on the Guyana government which owns ten per cent of the company, to adopt a firm position on this issue and “counsel the Russian management to allow good sense to prevail.”
An “Information Memorandum to the Public”, sent to Kaieteur News by BCGI, also says that workers, reportedly over 80 of them who were dismissed, were not sent home because of their membership of the GB&GWU.
“All dismissals were for good and sufficient cause, namely, the refusal of some employees to obey instructions, and their entry into restricted areas without permission and without proper protective gear.” BCGI, under fire from several unions for recent events, said that it has not refused to recognise the union.
“Nor has BCGI ever forced workers to sign a form requesting de-recognition of the union. It has come to its attention that over 40 per cent of the company’s employees no longer wish the GB&GWU to represent them, and it has accordingly notified that union that it intends to seek its de-recognition, a procedure which is both recognised and permitted by section 31 of the Trade Union Recognition Act. The union is understandably afraid of this.”
BCGI said that it acted lawfully in terminating the former Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) with the Union.
“The CLA is a contract between the union and BCGI which has been fundamentally breached by the Union on three occasions this year. The company has therefore treated the contract as repudiated or rejected by the union and has merely accepted this.
“The Union’s position is that BCGI must continue to adhere to this contract, notwithstanding that it breaches it at will.”
According to the company, the union and its sympathisers have withheld several important facts from the general public.
These include an article in the “former” CLA, Article 46, which prohibits the Union and its members (the employees) from striking.
“In view of the orderly procedure set forth in Article 11 of the Collective Labour Agreement …the union agrees that they will not cause or direct any industrial actions of any sort…further, no employee shall engage in any cessation of work or restriction of production during the term of the Agreement.”
This Article was breached by the union and its members in March, May, and again in November 2009, BCGI said.
“That the strike in November 2009 was caused by deliberate misrepresentations by the General Secretary of the union. The Union requested a 40 per cent wage increase retroactive to January 2009. BCGI was unable to pay this and instead suggested three options.”
These 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 Thursday.
“The GBWU by letter dated 13 November, 2009 signed by the General Secretary on behalf of the Union, chose the first option. However, upon workers becoming angry, the General Secretary made a statement to the local media that the union had never agreed to a reduction of the work-force, and that it had only agreed to the 10 per cent increase.”
The company said that the deliberate misrepresentation that BCGI had unilaterally taken a decision to reduce the work-force, when it was the union which chose that option, led to the latest strike.
“BCGI is in possession of the letter signed by the General Secretary himself selecting that option and will publish it at an appropriate time.”
The company said that it has been forced to publish these matters to correct the distortions and deliberate untruths being disseminated.
“Having apprised the public of the facts, at present BCGI does not see any utility in further comment on the subject.”
Several workers picketed the Kingston offices of Prime Minister, Sam Hinds, earlier this month on conditions at the mines at Aroaima and Kwakwani, Berbice.
Lending support to the group, along with union officials, were former Chief Magistrate (Ag), Juliet Holder-Allen, and Chairman of Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan.
The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU), in a released letter to RUSAL, said that as a measure of good faith, the union is prepared to continue negotiations, despite the “undesirable conduct” of the company.
“As a consequence you are put on immediate notice that GBWU is prepared and available to discuss Terms of Resumption as it relates to that of all employees…including those unlawfully and vindictively dismissed and suspended.”
So far, the union said that more than 80 employees have been dismissed for striking.
“For clarity, the union’s position is that legally no employee has been dismissed or suspended and as such those who were issued with letters are considered to be on strike and on resumption they will return to work.”
The union’s General Secretary (Ag), Leslie Gonsalves, said that so far, the company has fired all the shop stewards of the union.
Working conditions and relations have deteriorated to a point that “black clothes” police are in the work sites harassing workers, Gonsalves said.
The company has since said that workers, minus those sent home, are back on the job and production is meeting its targets.
Meanwhile, NWU in a message backing the union extended solidarity to the GB&GWU “as you face the pernicious move by the predominantly Russian –owned management of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) to “derecognise” your union.”
NWU was of the opinion that this is a major threat to the survival of the union and the survival of trade unionism in Guyana. “The NWU condemns in the strongest terms this grave threat to trade unionism by the Russian management of the company who represent the interest of RUSAL, the world’s largest producer of aluminum and alumina.”
This issue is of major interest to trade unions in Trinidad and Tobago, the union said. “Quite recently two parastatal organisations, the Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) and the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC) attempted to decertify the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) and the Transport and Industrial Workers’ Union (TIWU) respectively.
Their attempts had to be withdrawn when the trade unions united and condemned the attempts in a vigorous and militant faction, making it clear to the government that it was not going to be tolerated.”
NWU noted that it is interesting, like the BCGI, TSTT is partly foreign owned, though the government of Trinidad and Tobago has majority ownership.
“It is noteworthy that both foreign and state capitalists in the Caribbean have attempted to deprive workers of trade union membership emphasising the position that all employers thrive on the exploitation and suppression of labour.
“This is a worrying development and close attention should be paid to this new trend in industrial relations.”
The NWU called on the government of Guyana to put an immediate stop to the move to de-recognise the GB&GWU.
“The NWU urges the Guyana Trade Unions Congress to mobilise its resources to halt this attack on the very concept of trade unionism.
The NWU stands firm with the GBGWU as it fights to beat back this vicious attack not only on itself but on trade unions everywhere.”
Several local unions and political parties have also criticised the company on its stance to the workers.
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