Feb 28, 2019 News
Workers of Rusal and residents of the Kwakwani community, Region Ten, blocked the Berbice River, halting the company’s continued shipping of bauxite. According to workers, the actions started late Tuesday evening, with a wire rope attached to barrels and water tanks strung across the river.
The escalating actions would come after more than 90 workers were fired by Rusal’s local operator, the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI), two weekends ago.
Since then, workers, including those whose services were terminated, have been holed up in housing area, 12 miles from Kwakwani, at the Aroaima property of Rusal.
The standoff has drawn in Government and Rusal’s headquarters with the company refusing to deal with the workers’ union. Attempts by Government to mediate a resolution, including a return of the fired workers to their duties, have failed with the BCGI saying it is moving to hire new staffers. Government has been meeting with them and company, almost one and half decades here, refusing to stand down. The company has hired former Chief Labour Officer, Mohamed Akeel, to advise them.
Government sent food supplies to the fired workers who fear leaving the Aroaima site would diminish any possibilities of forcing the Russian-controlled company to rethink its decision to send them home. Yesterday, workers said that Rusal’s local shippers, Oldendorff Carriers, would have heard of blockage of river and therefore not send any vessels. “We want to send a clear message that it cannot be business as usual,” a spokesperson of the group on the Kwakwani waterfront area told Kaieteur News yesterday.
About 300 residents and workers were at the riverside yesterday to lend support.
Meanwhile, yesterday, Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally, reaffirmed the government’s commitment to stand by workers dismissed by United Company Russian Aluminum (Rusal).
Following a meeting with Director of Aluminium and Bauxite Department, Vladimir Permyakov, on Tuesday, Minister Ally met with representatives from the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union yesterday where she updated them on the status of affairs.
During the meeting held at her Lamaha Street office, the Social Protection Minister expressed her extreme dissatisfaction with the way the Russian company is operating and stated that it will not be tolerated by the government.
The Social Protection Minister told the union representatives that it was indicated to Rusal that government will not be accepting the conditions they put forward for reinstating the dismissed workers.
“Government will not accept what is existing and I did indicate to them that we will go to the lengths, we will explore the options and we are going to have to make a decision on this matter,” Minister Ally relayed.
President of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union, Lincoln Lewis, suggested an examination of the company’s mining licence be conducted, to ensure they are complying with the stipulated conditions.
Lewis further cited chapter 98:01 (4) of the Labour Laws which gives the Minister authority to put in place arbitration proceedings. According to him from 2009 to present, Rusal failed to engage the union. In 2009, Rusal fired 57 workers for protesting for better pay and conditions.
“We are requesting that you do that dating back to the issues commencing from 2009 because that gives you a backdrop under the law that they refused to engage the union over that period,” the union resident said.
Minister Ally confirmed that an examination of the company’s licence is currently being discussed. The Government of Guyana and the foreign owned company – RUSAL, are currently at loggerheads over 61 workers who were unjustifiably dismissed. The Government had sought to engage the Russian company on two occasions, the most recent being on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.
That meeting was a follow up to a prior meeting after which it was expected that the workers would be reinstated.
However, RUSAL’s representatives indicated on Tuesday that they will not be reinstating those workers but rather have them reapply and sign a new labour contract. An act Minister Ally told the management of RUSAL is unreasonable and an unthinkable position on the matter. The company has a track record of dismissing employees. Back in November 2009, 57 workers were dismissed from Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) after a strike for increased pay and safer working conditions, closed the Aroaima and Kwakwani sites. In 2010 five Rusal employees were fired after a fallout over poor meals at the company’s Aroaima work site
Also present at yesterday’s meeting were Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott and Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle.
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