Nov 01, 2011 News
The Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) yesterday criticised Government for Sunday’s industrial accident that claimed the life of a bauxite worker of Rusal at Kwakwani, Berbice River. The victim was buried alive in a mining pit.
During a press conference at Critchlow Labour College, GTUC’s General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis, had harsh words for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration.
“Today the PPP has the blood of these workers on its hands by its continued wilful act to deny a section of Guyanese labour their right to work in a healthy environment, and respect their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
“The GTUC asks of these operatives how many more must be made martyrs, have their blood shed and lives lost before the rights of all workers and citizens are respected?”
Dead from the accident is 20-year-old Franklin Reece, from Hururu Mission, Berbice River. His work colleague, Anthony Johnson, has been hospitalized.
The official, expressing his unions shock and sadness at the incident, accused Rusal-owned Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) of having a history of labour problems.
At the press conference with Lewis was GTUC’s President, Norris Witter.
“The life of every worker is important to this nation and any death through un-natural cause must be of concern to us, even more so given the continued struggle being waged by these workers over the last two and a half years to ensure proper occupational health and safety in the workplace, the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, which the Government of Guyana continues to collude with the company to so deny them.”
The union criticized the “haste” with which Mines Minister, Prime Minister Sam Hinds, “rushed to express condolences and say that he had discussion with Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir and they would dispatch “a team of officers to Kwakwani to ascertain the facts and to provide an immediate report on this regrettable accident.”
According to GTUC, this “show” of sympathy and empathy must be exposed for what it is, for it cannot be sincere and “reeks more like a continued attempt to play politics with the lives of bauxite workers, even more so now that elections are around the corner and they are desperately trying to buy votes.”
GTUC said that continuously Rusal’s track record has been brought to Hinds and Nadir’s attention since 2009 with little action.
Rusal has now hired former Chief Labour Officer and Occupational Health and Safety Officer, Mohamed Akeel, and with Government clearly on the company’s side, the situation has become intolerable for workers.
The union drew reference to other incidents including the May 2009 action in which workers were forced to down tools in protest against the defective mining equipment they were given to work with and after some workers fell ill as a result.
“The Ministry of Labour is aware of this industrial infraction and to date both the Chief Labour Officer, Yoganand Persaud, and Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir have refused to help reconcile in the matter, which is a breach of the Collective Labour Agreement and the laws of Guyana.”
Rusal’ track record
Lincoln Lewis also attacked the ongoing two-year-old standoff in which 57 workers were dismissed by the company for taking strike action over working conditions.
“In January 2011 workers at Aroaima protested the rat and roach infested kitchen and ration to prepare their meals.
“And for this five of them were subsequently dismissed. To date the Ministry decides that it will do nothing about it. From December 2009 BCGI and the Guyana Government have been in contravention of the Labour law by failing to treat with the recognized union and a decision was taken and facilitated by Mohamed Akeel to form a union to represent the workers.”
According to the official, Donald Ramotar, the PPP presidential candidate, was twice written to in his capacity as General Secretary of the PPP, advising him of the state of affairs.
“…and on both occasions he refused to acknowledge receipt of the letters or intervene to have the matters resolved. Yet two Sundays ago he went to Linden and his party’s contempt for the workers of Linden promised he will create 2000 jobs and bring value added to bauxite should he be elected president.”
GTUC said that Lindeners and bauxite workers do not want promises but the assurance that the rights of the bauxite workers are respected.
Lewis accused Rusal and the government, by extension of being “hell bent” on imposing company unions on workers at BCGI and Oldendorff against the will of these workers, who through polls have elected the GB&GWU to represent their interests.
“The PPP must remember when Guysuco was nationalised the then PNC administration put in place the mechanism to respect the rights of sugar workers to a union of their choice, via a similar poll, which resulted in the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) winning the right to be the workers’ bargaining agent.”
If it was wrong back then to impose company union on sugar workers and of which the PPP rightly waged a battle to ensure the will of the sugar workers was respected, it cannot be right today to instigate and participate in the act to impose company union on bauxite and shipping workers, the official said.
These “violations” on the government’s part have resulted in the continuous poor working environment at BCGI and abuse of workers which led to the industrial death of Remington Wade and the maiming of Otis Conway and others in June 2010 and now the death of Reece and the serious injury of Johnson.
According to Lewis, workers and family members had to protest on Sunday after Rusal attempted to put the injured Johnson in a pickup to be taken to the hospital. He was finally placed on a plane.
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