…employees made to pay hospital bills for injuries on job
Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Simona Broomes, on Tuesday led a team to the Aroaima location of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI), a RUSAL subsidiary based in Region Ten.
The visit was prompted by reports of a number of labour infractions and indeed there were.
While the Management of the Company indicated that a new Management team is in place and that the health and safety of workers are now being focused on, the Ministry yesterday said it is particularly concerned about the extreme and at times, dangerous conditions under which workers are being forced to perform.
The Labour Department, according to a statement from the Ministry, has now launched an investigation and a letter listing the infractions observed will shortly be dispatched to the company indicating that these need to be corrected, some, immediately.
“The complaints by workers were numerous but chief among them was the fact that they are not allowed to be unionized. It is the Ministry’s position that the Constitution of Guyana provides for every worker to be part of any organization according to their choice and these include trade unions,” the Ministry said.
“It is the fact that the Trade Union Recognition Act makes it mandatory that any trade
union bargaining for or on behalf of any group of workers ought to be recognized. Section 23 of the said Act makes it an offence for any management to refuse to treat with the trade union of the workers’ choice.”
The Ministry said that almost all of the more than 100 workers spoken to by Ministry officials expressed the desire to be unionized.
“…And the Ministry believes that their right to this should be respected. This was made clear to management, and the Ministry believes that this issue will be ironed out in the new future.”
The Ministry’s team, which included assistant Chief Labour and Occupational Health and Safety Officer, Lydia Greene, and Consultant, Francis Carryl, was also disturbed by the claim of two workers that they are being forced to repay medical bills for injuries they would have suffered on the job.
“The workers were taken to a private hospital, one for burns and the other for a broken arm. The Ministry finds it unconscionable that monies are being deducted from their salaries for the medical bills. In at least one of the cases management officials on site admitted to this.
A recently appointed Manager indicated that he has written to the company’s Country Manager on the issue.”
According to the Manager, the employee, who is in a supervisory position, is an exemplary one and the Ministry finds it unconscionable that he is being treated in this manner.
“The Ministry plans to address this issue immediately with management with the view to having these deductions cease and for the workers to be repaid the monies already deducted. In the case of the said worker, who was burnt earlier this year, the company failed to report the accident during the four-day period prescribed by the labour laws, and for this a charge will be instituted against the company by the Labour Department. This was told to management.”
The Ministry said that workers also complained about a three percent salary increase being imposed upon them for next year and that management told them this was the ceiling set by Government because of inflation.
“Minister Broomes made it categorically clear that this is not the position of the Government and when she sought to challenge the Deputy Personnel Manager on the issue, he indicated that the issue arose out of miscommunication due to the language barrier. The Ministry is concerned about the issue and this will be registered in a letter to the company’s management.”
During Tuesday’s visit, Broomes made it clear that her presence should not be seen as an attack on the company since the Government welcomes foreign investors, but stressed that this should not be done at the expense of workers being treated unfairly.
She added that while she would not attempt to impede the company’s progress she would also not allow workers’ rights to be infringed.”
“As the Minister responsible for labour I am here to hold the balance between employer and employee and that is what I am going to do. I am not going to attempt to do anything outside of the law,” she said.
Officials of the Ministry will conduct a follow-up inspection to ensure that the labour infractions that were pointed out to the company are corrected.
“During a meeting with the management team it was indicated that changes will be made and for this, the Ministry is heartened.”
The Russian company is the second largest aluminium company in the world.
In 2006, RUSAL acquired assets of the state-owned Aroaima Mining Company in Guyana.
It clashed with local unions after 57 trade union leaders of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GBGWU) were summarily sacked in late 2009 when workers at the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) went on strike.
BCGI is 90 per cent owned by the Russian aluminium company RusAl and 10 per cent by the Government of Guyana.
The company had also been under the spotlight for a number of lucrative tax concessions it has been granted.
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