– union accuses administration of ‘cat and mouse’ games
By Leonard Gildarie
Government yesterday blazed RUSAL, a Russian-owned bauxite company, for refusing to attend a key meeting Wednesday with its workers’ union and threatened possible arbitration.
Additionally, Minister of Labour, Manzoor Nadir, yesterday accused the company of supplying ‘incomplete and possibly inaccurate or misleading information” to the Ministry, and warned of repercussions.
The letter to RUSAL from the Minister came a day after the bauxite company refused to attend the meeting, prompting the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) to issue a harsh statement accusing government of collusion with the company and of playing a “cat and mouse game” with workers.
“The Government has been very patient, principled and objective. I am, however, unprepared to tolerate from RUSAL any further disrespect to our Laws, workers and people. I am strongly urging you to attend the next meeting called by the Ministry.”
The letter would also signal a more pronounced stance from government after a year of being accused of not doing anything about the RUSAL matter in which 50-plus workers were fired in December 2009 for taking part in strike action for increased wages.
Last year, RUSAL had written GB&GWU, announcing its intentions to sever relations with the union and citing a number of breaches of labour agreements.
GB&GWU on Wednesday said that it saw a letter by RUSAL to the Ministry in which the company stood by its decision of derecognising the union and as such does not consider the ministry’s invitation to a meeting as “valid”.
But in a clear signal that government may have had enough of the continuing standoff, which saw international condemnation, the Labour Minister in his letter to RUSAL’s General Manager, Ruslan Volokhov, said that the Ministry views the refusal as “gross disregard and disrespect for the country, the government and the laws of Guyana”.
He reminded RUSAL that GB&GWU is still the certified barging agent for a large section of the company’s workforce, with the company bound to meet with them.
“You cannot unilaterally declare that there exists no collective bargaining agreement.”
Nadir referred to the labour regulations which deal with workplace conflicts and noted that the Minister may, if he thinks fit, inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference and “take such steps as to him may seem expedient for the purpose of promoting a settlement of the difference”.
Additionally, Nadir disclosed that the union has “supplied incomplete and possibly inaccurate or misleading information” which is in direct contravention to the Trade Union and Recognition Board regulation, which clearly states that this is an offence.
Warning that he has the powers to intervene in any trade disputes, the Minister said that he can exercise his powers to appoint an Advisory Committee and “the Committee shall inquire into the matters referred to and shall report thereon and make such recommendations as it may deem expedient, to the Minister.”
He threatened the possible use of compulsory arbitration as a recourse, as has been done in the past few years.
The letter was also sent to Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, Permanent Secretary Trevor Thomas and Clive Nurse, Deputy Chief Labour Occupational Safety and Health Officer.
On Wednesday, in what could be considered its harshest statement yet on the ongoing conflict with RUSAL, GB&GWU in referring to the no-show of company for the meeting with labour officials, said that the company is not only playing the “discriminatory politics of the Guyana Government, but is also being misadvised…”
The Ministry had initiated the meeting to allow the union and RUSAL’s Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI) to meet and address a number of issues, including the dismissal of the 57 workers in 2009 and five in 2010.
“The meeting which was to be chaired by Mr. Charles Ogle, Assistant Chief Labour Officer, who was present, saw non-attendance of the company’s representatives,” the union said in its release.
GBGWU pointed out that even though a collective labour agreement may be expired, while there still exists a Recognition Agreement, a company/employer is legally bound to engage with the union. The union said it has since informed the Ministry and has dispatched a letter to the company highlighting its legal obligation.
“The expiration of a CLA has nothing to do with engagement between the parties, it is merely an excuse to avoid the legal obligation to engage, following on a pattern since December 2009 even though there exists a Recognition Agreement that legally binds the party.”
It was further stressed that the absence of the company on Wednesday, following the December 1, 2009 announcement that it is derecognising the union, is deserving of an explanation from the government “who has done little or anything to ensure the workers’ right to freedom of association and the right of the union as the bargaining agent for these workers at BCGI, be enforced.”
The union also made reference to the public affirmation of President Bharrat Jagdeo that the derecognition of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) would not take place under his watch. “The disparity in treatment by this government of bauxite workers vis a vis sugar, who over the years are part of productive section, is glaring.”
GB&GWU noted that it refuses to believe that BCGI, a company that is owned by Russian Alumina and the Government of Guyana, can abuse bauxite workers in this manner without the support of the government.
“There is no law in our country that allows a company to de-recognise a union. Though the government has knowledge of this, it has done nothing to ensure the laws are respected for bauxite workers.”
The union also said that it has taken note of the fact that in November, workers were forced to protest conditions under which their meals were prepared and the use of expired food items in the preparation of it.
“Even after management investigated the complaints and agreed to the charges made by the workers, they turned around and fired five workers for speaking out. Bauxite workers seek no favour, handouts nor political allegiance. As citizens and taxpayers of this country they demand their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, something this government seems bent on not respecting.”
GBGWU accused the government of allowing the conditions of bauxite workers to drastically deteriorate under their watch and having decisions made for the industry without their input.
Additionally, it said, pension plans and other benefit schemes were “destroyed without the workers input, yet you see the resilience of a people who refuse to give up, kneel or be mendicants, qualities this government find discomforting.”
GB&GWU also said it has taken note of the publicized news that the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) and Government of Guyana have partnered with the local Chinese community to ensure “non-discriminatory and discretionary treatment” toward this group.
“These are laudable efforts of a tax receiving government who should be governing in the interests of all and that of a similar tax receiving commission established to promote and ensure ethnic respect and equality for all.”
However, the union argued in its statement Wednesday, this action is not consistent.
RUSAL has bauxite mining operations at Aroaima and Kwakwani, Region 10.
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