Apr 22, 2018 News
The news from Region Ten is not good for hundreds of bauxite workers.
Days after disclosures that Germany-headquartered Oldendorff Carriers has signaled a pullout from Guyana after US sanctions targeted Rusal, it is being confirmed that operations in Region Ten will continue until June 5.
Rusal is the Russian-owned company that controls the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc.(BCGI). The news last week left workers –over 500 of them- deeply worried about their future.
Yesterday, Government disclosed that senior officials including Raphael Trotman, Minister of Natural Resources, and Simona Broomes, Minister within the Ministry of Natural Resources, along with Mr. Audwin Rutherford, MP and Jermaine Figueira, MP, both representatives from Linden, on Friday held discussions with officials of BCGI and shipping company Oldendorff.
The intentions of Government was to assess “first hand, the impact that the US Government sanctions on Rusal’s Guyana operations in the upper Berbice River, and in the main, on the hundreds of workers employed by the two companies,” a Government statement explained.
At the meeting it was disclosed that senior officials in Europe were engaged in daily talks to mitigate the impacts, and information is being communicated as soon as it is known.
“The situation was described as “fluid”, and for now, it is known that the operations would continue until June 5, 2018.”
The ministry said that in the event that the sanctions are not withdrawn or modified by June 5, 2018, Oldendorff would be legally obliged to terminate its services.
“Both companies pledged to continue to engage the workers and to respect the labour laws of Guyana in the handling of arising issues. Additionally, the companies indicated their willingness to receive government’s support in whatever way possible.”
The statement said that the ministers and the MPs grilled the officials about their sharing of information with employees and stressed the high value that government placed on keeping the workers employed to avoid the social impact to the people of Region 10 – Upper Demerara-Berbice.
At the conclusion of the meeting on Friday, the ministers indicated that in addition to holding meetings with union representatives, they will also urgently visit employees at the various sites in the Berbice River in the coming week.
This week, reports confirmed that Oldendorff said that it “will fully comply with US sanctions and therefore will be winding up its business in Guyana in a timely manner.”
Oldendorff has yet to determine what it will do with the 20 purpose-built barges and six tugs for the operation in the Berbice River area. It has a base there.
At the start of April, the US Treasury Department put Oleg Deripaska, the main principal of Rusal, on its growing sanctions list, accusing him of involvement in a host of alleged Russian government predations, including Ukraine and Syria, as well as crimes against business rivals.
Deripaska’s EN Group owns Rusal, the second largest aluminium producer in the world after Rio Tinto.
Deripaska stepped down from EN Group in February, but the US still considers him in control on EN Group and Rusal.
The upshot is that US businesses are blocked from dealing with Rusal and non-US businesses can also face sanctions should they deal with Rusal.
The US Treasury’s sudden move on Rusal also disrupted cargoes in transit. One market source said finished aluminium cargoes are now sitting in ships off the US East Coast as buyers shy away.
The decision by Oldendorff to comply will have far-reaching implications for Rusal and its Guyana operations.
With several hundred workers in Region Ten and from Berbice, Rusal will now have to scramble to find another carrier or face some tough choices.
It would be news that Guyana can ill-afford.
Last week, Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, assured that the sanctions will not have much impact as Rusal has assured that Oldendorff will stick around. However, the news has now changed.
BCGI, Rusal’s local operating company, has operations in Aroaima and Kurubuka.
Following the closure of the Region Ten mines, Region Ten’s economic activities had contracted big time with thousands of workers laid off in the 80s and 90s.
In the 2000s, Rusal entered with Bosai also taking up the operations in Linden.
However, the bauxite operations never went back to its glory days.
Rusal itself has been battling labour issues, firing more than 50 workers who took part in strike actions in 2009 over poor working conditions.
They have been battling labour officials in consecutive administrations. The situation would be a bleak one at best with Rusal reportedly bracing itself and started stockpiling of wet ore.
A team of government and other officials are expected to travel to the Region 10 mines this week to get a better understanding of the situation, Kaieteur News was told yesterday.
In the absence of a shipper and uncertainty of markets because of the US sanctions, the situation is not looking good.
Meanwhile, the People’s United and General Workers Union (PU&GWU) will during next week seek an urgent meeting with Oldendorff Carriers Guyana Inc. to be updated.
“This meeting will seek to ascertain the arrangements in place for affected workers as required under the laws of Guyana. Should the company witness this unfortunate fallout, the union demands that Oldendorff, without delay, put systems in place to ensure all union members receive their redundancy payments and all other benefits,” the union said in a separate statement.
The union has also said it will be attending a meeting with Minister Trotman on Monday regarding the developments.
“Minister Trotman has already engaged the affected companies and pledged support. The Union looks forward to working with all parties to ensure the necessary dues are provided for the 180-plus Oldendorff Guyanese employees to be affected by this situation.”
The union also registered its “discontent” with the company to engage them knowing that the parties have a signed agreement and the “union is the certified representative of all the workers at Oldendorff. With no information from the company, many workers contacted the union concerned and fearful.”
Given the recent developments, the union said it believes serious discussions must be held regarding Guyanese workers being provided jobs from any other company who may replace Oldendorff.
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