Latest update March 31st, 2023 12:59 AM
Mar 01, 2019 News
The pressure is continuing to mount on the Russian-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) to rescind its decision to fire over 90 workers over objections to a one percent increase.
The matter has been dragging on for two weeks now, and has drawn in the trade unions of Guyana, government and the company’s headquarters.
More than likely, the Russian Embassy has been engaged as well.
Yesterday, as workers and residents from Kwakwani continued to block the Berbice River to stop Rusal from moving its bauxite, the country’s most powerful unions gathered in front of the Forshaw Street, Queenstown office of the company to stage a picket, an unusual situation for unions normally at loggerheads. This time a common threat has reared its head and there will be no tolerance.
While that was happening, in Berbice, officials of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) were visiting the operations at Kurubuka, reportedly to carry out an assessment.
Government has announced plans to keep a closer eye on the operations. It is unclear if this is part of the strategy.
At the Queenstown office, the union officials were bearing placards calling for President David Granger to intervene, and for the Labour Department to be sterner on Rusal.
That company, with over 540 workers, has not been declaring profits for 14 years and was supposed to be paying royalties on the shipped bauxite. Government said it has not received any dividends for the 10 percent stake that it has in BCGI.
Yesterday, GGMC’s Commissioner, Newell Dennison, said that as far as he is aware, the company has been paying its royalties.
At the Aroaima site, where employees are housed, scores of workers who have been sacked continue to be holed up there.
President of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU), which is the official union for the bauxite workers, Ephraim Velloza, was one of the persons at the Kwakwani waterfront area.
A wire rope with barrels and water containers has been strung across the river to stop Rusal from shipping its bauxite.
The Russian management, although halting operations and telling government it will not rehire those whose services were terminated, has been continuing to process bauxite from stockpiles that can keep them going six months within any mining. They are using a skeleton staff.
Yesterday, at the Queenstown picketing, representatives were from the affiliates of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC).
They had met on Tuesday at the Critchlow Labour College Boardroom and considered
“the attitude and demeanour of foreign-owned enterprises with regards to the Guyanese working-class.”
“The workers dismissal was linked to their participation in a legitimate, justifiable, expression regarding the imposition of pay rise by BCGI. The workers right to protest is now incontrovertible and the actions by the company cannot be seen as justifiable in any light. But while the BCGI sheds crocodile tears, it, at the same time, has, so far, failed to explain, in any convincing manner, its rationale for not engaging the recognized union – the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU).”
In fact, the unions said in the joint statement, such an explanation has been unforthcoming as no sensible explanation can be proffered in the first place.
“It should not be forgotten that the Constitution of Guyana and the Trade Union Recognition Act compels employers to engage the legitimate workers organisation in Collective Bargaining.”
BCGI’s action, the meeting recognized “dismayingly”, is not an isolated incident, but rather, seems to be a reflex action by foreign-enterprises operating locally.
“This dismal conclusion was reached after the meeting noted that an almost similar approach was embraced by the Malaysian-owned Demerara Timbers Limited (DTL). The DTL, in 2016, had moved to dismiss a number of workers after they took part in a protest exercise outside that Company’s Head Office in Kingston, Georgetown. That matter was subsequently settled after the intervention of the Courts were sought.”
It was also disclosed that since then, the company has been refusing to engage the recognised bargaining agent – the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) – and has even gone as far as refusing to attend meetings summoned by the Department of Labour of the Ministry of Social Protection.
Similarly, the unions recalled that the National Mine Workers Union (NMWU) in 2017, called attention to certain breaches by the Canadian-owned Guyana Goldfields Inc.
“The union, at that time, had also expressed concern that workers were not being granted any pay increases and were bothered about the composition of the Workers’ Complaint Committee. The FITUG/GTUC also recalled concerns being expressed, in the media, regarding employees employed with El Dorado Offshore (EDO), another foreign enterprise involved in the oil sector, who could be fired were they to disclose their working-conditions.”
According to the unions, with many foreign-enterprises operating in the extractive sectors, those workers make sacrifices to be away from their loved ones, sometimes for extended periods, but yet, in spite of those laudable efforts, are treated with apparent disdain and scorn when they demand their fair share of the pie.
“The actions of foreign-enterprises in Guyana are by and large no different from their practices in other third-world nations as well. Many reports and articles, in several countries, have spoken to nearly identical situations as the profit-motive, it appears, trumps every other concern, including environmental well-being and employees welfare. Our concerns, at this time, are heightened recognizing that several foreign companies have established themselves, in recent times, as they seek to benefit from opportunities flowing from the oil and gas sector.”
The representatives made it clear that it is not averse to foreign investment.
“But, at the same time, we have justifiable concerns regarding the practices and ploys embraced by some foreign-enterprises operating locally. On this score, we were heartened that the Government has indicated that workers’ rights must be upheld. We indeed look forward to the Government giving meaning to its utterances recognizing nowadays the neoliberal construct of the economy.”
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