As the spotlight continues to center on the operations of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI), there are details that for years it occupied a prime state-owned property in Queenstown, paying a monthly pittance.
According to the information, the Forshaw Street, Queenstown property was occupied for months by former President Bharrat Jagdeo, in his early years as the president. It was also home to Vice President Viola Burnham.
Viola Burnham, wife of former President Forbes Burnham lived in the building after it was rehabilitated by George Henry.
It was later rented to the bauxite company. It is said to have been in their possession for about15 years.
BCGI, the local subsidiary of Russian aluminium giant, Rusal, was supposed to pay a mere US$2,000 monthly for the property.
The Colonial-styled building came under the jurisdiction of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), a state company that manages properties.
Reportedly, BCGI officials were called in by NICIL last year and asked to pay US$5,000 per month.
The company resisted at first but later agreed to pay US$4,500.
The rent would be relevant as it appears now that Rusal got a really good deal from the Government of Guyana, in the mid-2000s.
According to staffers, it came here and took over the concerns that were once under the management of Reynolds Metals, a US company that had been here a decade but pulled out around 2000.
Government managed the facilities for a number of years before Rusal came.
Questions were raised by staffers on Friday at Aroaima about the investments made by Rusal.
A number of them recalled that save for a few trucks that were shipped in, the company largely kept the infrastructure without doing much.
They received tax concessions including on fuel imports for coming,
BCGI also installed a drier at the Kurubuka mines, as part of its “investments”.
However, housing units and other infrastructure at Mapletown, Aroaima where workers dwelled were left largely without much maintenance.
“We have 10 to 15 men using one wash area at the camp area here in Aroaima. Some homes we are discovering snakes lurking around.”
The issues would be relevant as workers are pointing out that it has become known now that the company never made a profit since coming here 14 years ago.
“So you have not made a profit. Okay then. So what was the plan that Rusal told the Government then that it was doing? Did they invest what they promised? You gotta to understand they took over a company that had equipment and everything working and yet for years never made a profit? Something is not adding up,” one long serving staffer noted.
Workers are suspicious that the company is being giving protection.
“We don’t know. Since they came, they have not stopped mining. Even when the US put sanctions on them last year they were working. All we want is a fair deal. We are asking questions. We want to work but we are not being treated right.”
The company has come in for scrutiny after for the second time in a decade it has fired scores of workers who protested for better working conditions and pay.
More than a week ago, workers said that they downed tools at Kurubuka after noticing an increase in their pay packets.
When asked, they were told that the company had paid a one percent increase. The increase was rejected.
Over the weekend, Rusal ordered its kitchen staffers to stop cooking for the workers.
In the middle of nowhere, in the Berbice wilderness, the workers were forced to make do with help from Kwakwani residents and others.
On Monday, the company posted out a list of 61 workers whose services were terminated.
The workers were ordered to vacate the premises.
However, since last weekend, the workers were not budging with operations of the 560-plus workers mines halted.
The company refused to meet with Government’s labour officials last Monday saying it does not want to meet with the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union.
On Tuesday, it did meet at the Department of Labour, Brickdam, after which the media was told that company could not promise reinstatement of the fired workers.
The workers continued to stay on the premises in that Region Ten area and government team including Ministers Amna Ally and Keith Scott met them on Friday at Aroaima.
It was disclosed that Rusal has been told to reinstate the workers. The workers want pay for those days they did not work.
They also want better health and housing accommodation and holidays with pay.
They claim that the company has been sacking and punishing workers, in the absence of the de-recognised union, without little options for recourse.
On Friday, Minister Ally, in response to questions, said that the priority now is not on the profits that Rusal would or would not have made, but rather on getting workers back to their job.
The Queenstown property is listed under the National Trust as a notable one in the area.
It is known as Sharples House.
The building was designed by architect John Bradshaw Sharples and built circa1907.
Affluent owners of the building over time include Mr. Sharples himself.
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