– Company switches managers, system to avoid paying
– Refused to sign agreement with Region One Village – Kwebanna residents
Amerindians from Kwebanna Village, Region One, promised “plenty, plenty money” to work for Bai Shan Lin, are today
owed millions of dollars by the Chinese company.
The Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) claims that it is holding Bai Shan Lin accountable to the laws of the country, including those governing corporate social responsibility.
But Amerindians of Kwebanna, a tiny village of Arawaks, Warraus and Caribs, near Bai Shan Lin’s operations, in Waini, Region One, would tell you a different story.
Bai Shan Lin harvests logs through what forestry authorities say is a joint venture with Kwebanna Woods, a company that has a Timber Sales Agreement that allows it to harvest for export in commercial quantities.
Some of the workers employed by Bai Shan Lin are owed a combined total of millions of dollars.
“They tell me that I must give them the service and I must work for plenty, plenty money and they would pay me the money but when the time reach for I come home now, no money,” said Andrew Brescenio.
He is among workers who would spend weeks, sometimes up to three at a time, living in plastic tents while cutting logs for Bai Shan Lin.
When Bai Shan Lin entered the village looking for chainsaw operators, Brescenio opted to go. He started working with the company in October 23, 2012. He was promised pay of $400 for every cubic metre of trees he cut.
He worked seven blocks and only received a percentage of what he worked for. He left for the village and returned in 2013. He had hoped to collect what was owed to him, but to no avail.
It was then that he was told to work for “plenty, plenty money” and when it adds up he would be paid. But again, he was given just a percentage and to date has not received a cent of what is owed to him. He alone is owed over $1 million, he said.
“They always promising us that they will pay whenever we done cut the wood…but they rob we.”
Even when it comes to knowing exactly what is cut, they have to take Bai Shan Lin’s word for it, as the measurement is
done by the Chinese workers.
“They always keep robbing we on the production too because they never give us the priority to measure our own logs to know how much cubic metre we cutting.”
Bruscenio said that on his last attempt to get the money he worked for, he was told by Bai Shan Lin officials that the manager had been fired and the current managers knew nothing of his outstanding wages.
Brescenio said that the matter was drawn to the attention of the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai since last year, but she has not responded to the complaints.
The Amerindian man travelled several miles to Buckhall, Essequibo River to talk to Bai Shan Lin, in vain. He had no money to travel back to Kwebanna.
His story resembles that of other workers. Bandie Samuels worked with the company in 2012. He is owed over $100,000.
Theobald Lewis said that initially, he worked for 18 days then got sick and had to return to the village. He was given a partial payment in two installments.
He went back to the interior to meet with officials to get the rest of his money and was asked to work further and he would be paid the total sum, including what was owed to him. Today, he is still waiting.
“We are not getting into contact with these people…When we call, different manager and different system in place.” He too said that the matter was reported to the Minister of Amerindian Affairs, but she has not responded.
Some workers have been more fortunate than others when it comes to their payment, but it was not without much persistence.
“I had to make plenty calls to get my money,” said Trevon Brescilio.
But it’s not just the workers felling trees who have been exploited. Villager, David Thomas,
said that he served hot meals to Bai Shan Lin operations but the company also never paid him. He is owed about $140,000.
“I give them ting to eat; they come by me, I cook and I give (them) it.”
Apart from the exploitation of the workers at Kwebanna, when Bai Shan Lin entered the community, the company reportedly bluntly refused to draw up an agreement with the community, according to the village Toshao, or Leader, Godfrey Wilson.
Kwebanna has been operating a Community Forestry Commission for over ten years now.
The village leader said that when officials of the company first visited about three years ago, they informed the villagers that they are going to check out “their land.”
“So that was a surprise and shock to us! You coming from China and say you coming to check out our land!”
According to the village Toshao the company wanted to use the village as a thoroughfare to take out its logs. The village asked for a monthly toll of $1.5 million. The company refused, Wilson said.
When it entered the village, Bai Shan Lin offered to buy the logs the community harvests. Wilson said the village agreed, but Bai Shan Lin wanted to set the payment terms. The village refused because the price that was offered was below what was reasonable to villagers.
The village depends on its community forestry operation; most of the villagers are
employed in the village enterprise which processes the logs, which are then sold as building material to companies on the Coast.
In Region One, Bai Shan Lin has been logging various species of wood and selling to Barama Company Limited.
In order to get ready for its operations, the company has to clear the Waini River to allow it to float the logs out of the area. It is now aggressively cutting miles and miles of road in the area, a signal of its intent.
The GFC and its governing authority, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, have launched an unprecedented public relations campaign to defend Bai Shan Lin which has come under intense scrutiny in the past weeks over its logging activities.
The Parliamentary opposition has already accused senior government officials of colluding with the company to hide the true nature of its operations, noting that kickbacks are what have caused it to shut up in the face of what could be glaring violations of Guyanese law.
A flyover last week of Bai Shan Lin operations in Kwakwani, East of the Upper Berbice River, found a huge stockpile of logs, mainly Wamara and other prime species.
GFC has said that the Chinese company is doing nothing wrong but there are many questions over the joint venture
arrangement and the many concessions granted to the Chinese company, including duty free concessions on luxury vehicles like Lexus and Infiniti, hundreds of container trucks, loaders, excavators, bulldozers and other heavy duty vehicles. The heavy equipment is mainly for primary logging activities.
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