Politicians make a fundamental mistake thinking they are invincible, and the table would never turn. This fact is exemplified in Sam Hinds’ letters which he always signs off as “Former Prime Minister and President.” His prefix to the titles serves as brutal reminder that when the people’s power is entrusted to you- which is a privilege – invincibility is a myth, and in the twinkling of an eye could come crashing down in splinters around the feet. Attention is being paid to “Sam Hinds asserts that Lincoln Lewis was/is wrong” and “Good for Bauxite Workers; Good for Sugar Workers” (KN: 30thJanuary 2016 and 22nd September 2018, respectively)
This issue with Hinds where he now sees the light of the importance of treating bauxite and sugar workers equally, calling on the APNU+AFC administration to act in such accordance, in principle is not wrong. Now that he no longer holds office, is on the outside looking in, had he, when the privilege was granted to him by the people acted in accordance, the moral authority to speak today to this issue he could claim.
Sugar and bauxite are considered the traditional productive sector and there resides a legacy of equal treatment from the time the process was put in place to nationalise the industries. When the Government was moving towards this, there were public conversations and political engagement between Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and Leader of the Opposition Cheddie Jagan. These entailed attending to the necessity of the act and what ought to be done in applying a course of action, including attending to respective Law, which had the support of the Opposition.
In the immediate post nationalisation period Pension Plans and Housing Development Programme were put in place to address workers’ needs in both industries. Government, with the support of the Opposition, moved to stamp out the ugly colonial inherited class system. Things like privileged days for different categories of workers to shop in the bauxite communities were removed.
When national positions were taken on wages/salaries for this sector there were equal treatment. When the guideline for wages/salary was centralized, whatever percentage the National Budget prescribed for bauxite, the same applied for sugar. Notedly, while that percentage was prescribed there was always the opportunity for negotiating other benefits. In fact, in 1976 when a number of areas, such as education grant, were negotiated by GUYMINE and the bauxite unions, these benefits were subsequently applied in sugar. In 1988, after bauxite workers fought and gain tax-free overtime, the Government applied it to sugar.
When the industries were experiencing economic challenges and the Desmond Hoyte administration entered into the Structural Adjustment Programme/Economic Recovery Programme both were identified for privatisation. A precursory to that saw both placed under foreign prescribed management contracts. GuySuCo was managed by Booker Tate and bauxite by MINPROC. Sam is today being reminded of this historical equal treatment and what his administration did to destroy it.
One of the first acts of the PPP/C, on its ascension to office in October 1992, was the targeting of sugar and bauxite. Sugar was removed from privatization attention, which allowed it to remain as a state-owned company, as mechanism was put in place to privatise bauxite. Hinds invited the Guyana Mines Workers Union (GMWU) and the Guyana Bauxite Supervisors Union (GBSU) to a meeting to break the news of his government plan. At that meeting, which yours truly attended, he outlined to us that there was a Plan to reduce calcine production at Linden, by more than half. In effect government was going to deliberately create a situation where workers would have to be sent home, i.e. placed on the breadline. Reduction in production carries concomitant loss of jobs.
Contrary to propaganda, Guyana never experienced a problem finding market for its bauxite products. The problem was the inability to produce enough and timely for the market place. By the time the PPP/C was done its target on the industry 4000+ workers were dislocated, causing severe socioeconomic damage to them, their families, and the communities within which they reside. Through Collective Bargaining, the administration agreed to, and honoured a Severance Package consistent with the Collective Labour Agreement. While government can claim credit for respecting this process, Hinds is wrong in seeking to extend such credit to the package workers were able to seal, via the shrewdness of their unions. That package has its genesis in a Redundancy Proposal written by the GBSU in 1991 as part of a proposed package intended for negotiation with GUYMINE.
Government thereafter proceeded to break up the bauxite workers’ Pension Plan, worth in excess of $2.5 billion, representing the single largest pool of money owned by African workers. As government did this, it moved to inject money to save the sugar industry in total, including sugar workers’ Pension Plan. Government took away the overtime bauxite workers fought for as it kept it for sugar workers. Equipment of the bauxite industry was plundered, and the steam turbine was removed from Linden and placed in a PPP/C stronghold to provide that community with electricity. We hear ridicule of the rates the bauxite community pays for electricity and water which ignores there were deferred wages/salary the unions negotiated with the employer (state-owned GUYMINE) and government honours.
Hinds calls on yours truly for support in ensuring “the struggle for similar treatment for sugar workers what is good for bauxite workers must be good for sugar workers also.” When did this epiphany hit him? Or is he playing the worn and condemned divisive politics based on the article he referenced, viz, “Task Force Works Out Severance Pact for RUSAL Workers” (GC: 10th September 2018)? The attempt to create that Task Force (TF) came through the agitation of the affected workers, their unions, and society’s call on government to address the impact of the United States’ sanctions on RUSAL, the majority shareholder in the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI).
In principle, the TF is no different than the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) that was set up by the coalition government to examine the state of sugar, where both underlying foci was to navigate the future of the agencies, including the workers’ welfare. Unlike the CoI, which had a Terms of Reference (ToRs), the TF did not. Consequently, the members of the committee, based on interactions with bauxite and shipping workers along with other stakeholders, conceptualised and developed a ToRs. Two critical areas under review were: – 1) current workers/employer relationship at the two companies; and 2) should sanctions be fully imposed the alternative route government must examine for implementation.
An Interim Report was prepared to guide the government as to the workers/management relationship and how same can be addressed. Last Wednesday, the nation learnt that Cabinet has taken a decision to hold this proposal, though fully aware that the industrial relations climate in Oldendorff and BCGI is acrimonious. Instead, government is more interested in saying it is on wait-and-see game as it relates to the sanctions, and if possible is looking for a replacement for RUSAL (SN: “Govt looking at ‘replacement for Rusal- Trotman, 3rd October 2018). Clearly, the welfare of the workers is immaterial to the Coalition.
This is clearly exemplified in the fact that the TF, since the resignation of its head Minister Simona Broomes, has not met even as information is gleaned from the media that Lance Carberry has been appointed the new head. Importantly too is an insight into the letter sent to BCGI management by Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman, dated 20th December 2017. This letter in part reads: “We [government] congratulate the company and its workers on their mutually satisfying relationship, and urge both parties to continue working in harmony to achieve future successes. Please note that as a government we believe in workers’ right to representation and as such we are maintaining [an] arm’s length approach to union matters.”
How more delusional and political duplicitous can politicians descend. Trotman is fully aware of the acrimonious climate at BCGI, where for nine years management has refused to engage the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU), the workers’ representative. He is an attorney-at-law by training and a lawmaker and knows the importance of words and the significance of what he wrote. Trotman was the AFC lead speaker on the no-confidence motion against PPP/C Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir, brought by the Opposition under the stewardship of Robert Corbin as its Leader. Though the Coalition has inherited this problem from Hinds’ administration, it campaigned to correct it should it secure office but continues to ignore same by refusing to act. Minister Trotman fools no one.
What can be attested to today is that the APNU+AFC government treats the working class with the same degree of contempt as the Hinds government. Whereas the PPP/C employed the ugly politics of divide and conquer amongst the working class and trade unions, the coalition sees the entire working class as a pariah group to be marginalised, ignored, and trampled on.
The workers of this country have to unite and fight against the atrocities being inflicted on them by those who are acting like tyrants, sought workers out for these votes, but are today proving it was only to feather their nest and not represent and protect the citizens/workers’ welfare. Hinds will have to determine, where the participated in a deliberate policy to sow discord among the working class, whether he can now be seen as a credible voice calling for equal treatment. He needs not call on me for support for sugar and bauxite workers to be treated equally. My positions on these issues are publicly known and continue to be expressed. This fact he can readily access.
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