… RUSAL/Union face-off
The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) has expressed concern with President Bharrat Jagdeo’s statements at the Police Officer’s Conference where he is reported as urging the union not to jeopardise the RUSAL investment.
The President’s reaction to the current dispute between the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI)/RUSAL and the GB&GWU is yet another confirmation of the workers allegation that management has been saying to them that the workers have the union and the company has the government, the union said in a statement yesterday.
“It is hard evidence as to the hostile position taken by the government towards bauxite workers, and supported, if not advocated by the President and by extension the People’s Progressive Party which we were all led to believe were working class in orientation.”
The union said that by seeking to deny bauxite workers justice, President Jagdeo made reference to prevailing economic realities facing RUSAL and the world but fails to relate this to the plight of bauxite workers eking out a daily living under harsh, unsafe conditions.
“President Jagdeo supports his arguments by mentioning RUSAL’s closure of mines in other countries but from information accessed in the Financial Times (Dec. 31, 2009) RUSAL said its net profit in 2009 is “unlikely to be less than $434M.”
Further, the union said, Jagdeo ignored the fact that the BCGI, of which the Government of Guyana is part-owner, is yet to open its financial records to the union and public and as such no determination can be made of BCGI’s economic reality.
The union noted that in January 2009, when GB&GWU started negotiations for a wage increase, the company said at the time that it was unable to meet the demand for pay increase given economic indicators on the world market.
The union and company, together, agreed that they would write the President and request his involvement in the re-instatement of tax-free overtime pay in lieu of a demand for a pay increase from the company.
“This was a benefit earned by bauxite workers and enjoyed also by sugar workers. The PPP government has, however, stopped the benefit to bauxite workers even as sugar workers continue to enjoy tax free overtime and periodic wage increases in a sector plagued by uncertainty and financial overburden.”
It is President Jagdeo’s refusal to respond to two requests by the union and BCGI that caused the union to return to the employer and primary source of negotiations, with no alternative but to restate its demand for improved wages.
“The President should explain to bauxite workers and this nation why he has deliberately ignored joint efforts between BCGI and the union to reinstate a benefit that was previously enjoyed and that is still being enjoyed by sugar workers.
“President Jagdeo owes this nation an explanation why he has turned to offer support to sugar workers and is prepared to throw bauxite workers to the wolves? These actions are seen as counter- productive, economically aggressive and an attempt to destroy bauxite workers, their union and the communities surrounding them.”
The union, in the statement yesterday, also said that note is taken of the President’s dereliction of his primary duty to serve and protect the country, its laws and people when he cautions the union in its struggle to stand up for what is right and fails to caution the company for breaching the laws of the country and the rights of Guyanese citizens to economic sustenance.
Further, the 57 workers who were dismissed have to also confront their economic realities and loss of livelihood.
“The economic reality of the company is equally important as the economic reality of the worker and in a unionised environment this is addressed at the negotiation table. The union is currently confronting BCGI’s refusal to do so and being aided by the Ministry of Labour with its refusal to act consistent with the labour laws and time-honoured industrial principles.”
According to the Union, if President Jagdeo is serious as he “stressed that his administration is not anti-union”, then he must act now to stop the violations meted out against GB&GWU and workers of BCGI.
Additionally, as Head of Government, the President does not need an invitation to intervene to ensure that the Minister of Labour executes his legal responsibility to resolve the dispute which is now three-month old and counting.
“He should do this in the interest of the economic well being of the citizens of his country and ensure the respect of the laws of the country,” GB&GWU said.
Late last year, BCGI said it will be moving to sever ties and derecognise the union after it breached labour agreements several times.
However, Government said that the company cannot by itself do that and will have to apply for a special trade union board.
There were several protests’ action by workers and the union and 57 workers were fired. Workers, facing the breadlines, returned to work early in December, minus the 57 employees, including show stewards that were fired.
The union has since taken its case before the Ethnic Relations Commissions claiming racial discriminations and several regional and international trade union bodies had condemned the company’s stance.
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