May 23, 2010 News
– forced to sleep in bond, underpaid, given dog to eat
– govt. promises probe
By Ursulla Ramdayal
Two male Amerindians have accused a prominent Chinese businessman in Robb Street of exploitation and of bringing them to the city under false pretence.
The two who quit the job on Friday, were as of yesterday staying in a Georgetown hotel as they pondered their next move.
The two said that they were forced to work on a construction site although they were told in Lethem that they were being hired to work in a store. They were also forced to work from 7 am to midnight in some cases, without proper pay.
They also claimed, along with other workers, that they were housed in a bond and not allowed to go out for any recreation.
However, a spokesperson for the China Trading has refuted the charges.
The two men, aged 24 and 18 from Lethem, said they only collected $15,000 each for three weeks of work.
Speaking to this newspaper from their hotel, the men said they are preparing to go into the “bush” to work.
The 24-year-old Amerindian of Karasabai, Region Nine, told this newspaper that he worked as a mason in Lethem but learnt that a Chinese businessman in Lethem was recruiting persons for “store work” in the city.
He went to the businessman who told him that he would work in the store.
On April 23, last, along with his 18-year-old companion, they left on a bus for the city.
On the first day on the job, they did indeed work at the Robb Street store.
Later that afternoon, the two were taken to their new living quarters— a bond belonging to the store that was located behind the Chinese Embassy, Mandela Avenue.
The bond housed at least 18 Amerindian males, aged as young as 14 years and brought to the city from Karasabai, Yupukari, Katokwa, and Lethem in Region Nine. There were rooms there for them but the wooden beds did not have any mattresses. The men were forced to sleep in hammocks they had brought along.
The following day, the men claimed that they were taken, not to the store, but to a construction site at Church and Thomas Streets and put to work. Their workday there began at 07:00hrs and ended at 20:00hrs. After that, they were taken back to the bond for a meal, after which they had to return to the Robb Street store to work again. Sometimes their work ended at midnight, the two Amerindians claimed.
At one point, several of the Amerindians were forced to jump the fence after being refused permission to go out for relaxation after work. The gate to the compound was usually locked, the fence very high and topped with dozens of rolls of barbed wire.
While meals were being provided by the store, the men claimed that on one occasion they were served meat from a dog. The men explained that they were told by a Chinese worker that the meat was from a dog that had come from the farm owned by the business people.
The Amerindian workers said that they did not touch that particular meal.
According to the men, they were forced to work every day and while they were initially promised $1,500 per day, they were only given $1000 per day. On top of this, they were not paid overtime and the cost of their trip from Lethem was deducted from their pay.
Other deductions were also made. On one occasion, a Chinese employee lost the earpiece of his phone, and $2,000 was taken out of each worker’s pay. Another time a net was missing and again deductions were made.
According to the two men, five Amerindian workers who were also recruited from Lethem, including a fourteen-year-old relative, are also planning to leave since the working conditions have become intolerable.
Yesterday, at the China Trading, a female spokesperson denied all the charges of the former employees.
She admitted that she has a friend at Lethem who helps her recruit Amerindians there. However, she denied that the men were told they would have worked in the store only.
The woman admitted that she may have erred in sending the two Amerindians to work on the construction site without any explanation.
“That was a mistake,” the spokesperson said.
She also admitted that the men were given wooden beds without mattresses since former workers had damaged these and the store was not prepared to replace them. She did say that blankets were supplied instead.
The accusations of the workers being locked in the compound were also denied. She said that the workers were specifically told to call her when they wanted to go out since there were issues with excessive drinking and their late hours of return.
She said also that the workers were told that they would receive $8,000 to $10,000 per week which included overtime, free food and housing. They were also informed that their hours of work were consistent with the business operations. She claimed that work ended normally at 19:00hrs, unless a container has to be cleared.
She was also not clear whether the business is complying with the labour laws of Guyana, but was quick to offer KN the opportunity to look at the wages book.
She also accused the Amerindians, (not the current set) of being lazy and of sometimes stealing from the business, and excessive drinking.
According to the spokeswoman, she has been bringing Amerindians down from Lethem since last year, and they only last about two to three weeks on the job.
She said that the store will now be moving not to hire any more persons from the Lethem area.
Yesterday, a senior labour official, while indicating that he has not received any complaints of possible exploitation at the store, disclosed that there will be a probe into the allegations by the Amerindians, as early as Monday. (Additional reporting by Leonard Gildarie)
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