Rusal’s management yesterday fired 61 workers who took strike action over the last week in a situation that is heading downhill fast.
As workers continue to defy orders from the Russians to leave the Aroaima area, Region 10, where they are housed, Government labour officials said that after a no-show for a meeting yesterday at the offices of the Ministry of Social Protection, Brickdam, company representatives have been summoned.
The handling of Rusal’s labour has been a simmering situation after the aluminum giant came here in mid-2000s, taking over the Aroaima operations.
In 2009, more than 50 workers, who participated in strike actions for better pay and conditions, were fired. That situation was never resolved. Fast forward three administrations later, now under the Coalition Government, and a decade later, Rusal’s arbitrary decisions are being questioned against a background of allegations that they are being protected.
A grim Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle, at his Brickdam office, was in a meeting with union leader, Lincoln Lewis, and other workers’ representatives.
Asked about the no-show of Rusal’s managers, Ogle said there is no “ifs” or “buts”.
“They (workers) have a claim… they have a justifiable claim so we will deal with that. We are going to meet with the company as of the earliest possible time, which is tomorrow. We will deal with the company. We have to deal with the company…we have to find out the reason and we have to tell them upfront.”
The officials said that issue is a serious one.
“We have to listen to the party…likewise, we have to listen and hear from the company. It is two sides…stories have two sides. They will have to turn up…we are summoning them. We are not giving in.”
General Secretary of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union, Lincoln Lewis, said that the excuse of Rusal’s local operating company, the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) that it will not turn up to a meeting with him, is a delay tactic.
The company had reportedly claimed that Lewis made racial statements.
According to Lewis, he did indeed tell the managers that Guyana has fought slavery and indentureship and it will not be entertained. The union leader said he has no apologies to make.
It was disclosed that following fresh procedures to choose a union in 2017, BCGI has refused to talk to representatives, stymieing efforts on the ground.
According to Lewis, there are choices including compulsory arbitration, with the strike action by workers being one of the options. He noted that the situation has become a political one, with the people of Guyana owning 10 percent of BCGI.
He said that there are allegations that government is part and parcel of the transgressions.
According to the official, there is no way that former presidents Forbes Burnham or Dr. Cheddi Jagan would have allowed the situation to fester like this. He called on President David Granger to summon the company and deal with the issue.
He warned workers not to move from the company’s premises, noting that it is a clear violation of the fundamental rights of workers to be fired after taking part in strike action. He said that there are several things wrong at Rusal’s operations including working conditions and pay.
Workers in the Kurubuka mine site, Upper Berbice River area, downed tools last week, with management ordering them back to work. This strike stemmed from an arbitrary one percent increase that was quietly put into workers’ pay packets. The workers have been calling for an increase in pay.
In 2009, 50-plus workers, including supervisors were fired for participating in strike action.
That matter has never been resolved.
Over the weekend, management in a move to drive the workers out, ordered its kitchen not to cook for them. Instead, they sent three buses to take them out from the Aroaima camp site.
However, workers refuse to move and are cooking for themselves.
The workers said they are waiting for the Labour Department to do the right thing.
Yesterday, workers said they reached a list that was tacked on a notice board, which said that 61 persons were terminated with immediate effect.
The workers included heavy equipment operators, mobile equipment operators, mechanics and others.
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