UC Rusal’s track record in a number of countries is painting a picture of strong-arm tactics by that Russian company.
Coming to Guyana in 2006, it acquired 90 percent of the Berbice operations at Aroaima and Kurubuka, in the Kwakwani, Upper Berbice area.
Since then, it never declared a profit.
Strangely, Guyana seemed never to be too concerned it was getting little. Maybe it was because the local operating company, Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI), owned 80 percent by Rusal, had hired as its advisor former Chief Labour Officer, Mohamed Akeel.
In 2009, the company fired 57 workers, a number of them supervisors, for protesting for better working conditions and pay.
Ten years later, the company, again took the ultimate step…to terminate the services of 91 workers.
For three weeks now, scores of workers are at Aroaima, a housing area for Rusal staffers, are refusing orders of the Russian managers to vacate the premises.
The stalemate has got Government in the act now with a decision likely this week that could seal the fate of Rusal in Guyana, unless the company accedes to demands of the unions to reinstate workers.
Government is examining the legal implications of Rusal sending home workers.
Rusal has been refusing for a decade now to recognize the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union, the bargaining unit that is acknowledged by the trade union regulator.
Going back, Rusal, said to be the second largest aluminium company in the world, does not have a flattering track record.
In fact, there are two prominent cases- in Guinea and closer to home, in Jamaica, which would shed light on the behaviour of the company.
Jamaica and Guinea
In Jamaica, a court case is coming up on March 19.
The court battle is looming between the Government and UC Rusal over Jamaica’s decision to revoke the mining licence that was issued to the Russian owners of West Indies Aluminium Company (Windalco) nearly 18 years ago, according to the Jamaican Gleaner in January.
The decision to yank the licence was based on Section 42(b) of the Mining Act, which authorises the minister to take such action “if the holder [of the lease] wholly ceases work in, on, or under the land subject of the lease during a continuous period of six months, without the written consent of the minister”.
The Jamaican government said that Rusal held on to the property but did not mine for over eight years.
UC Rusal is claiming that during the eight year period it spent US$1.2 million on land-reclamation and restoration activities and a further US$1.9 million last year for asset-preservation activities.
UC Rusal argues that the minister failed to establish the precedent as required by the Act when he moved to revoke the company’s mining licence.
In Guinea, Africa, the government had asked for hundreds of millions of dollars that the company owed for bauxite it mined but for which the country got little or nothing.
The Guinean government has weighed in on UC Rusal’s $2.2bn initial public offering, demanding that part of the proceeds go towards clearing $860m it says it is owed in damages by the Russian aluminium company.
Rusal acquired the Friguia bauxite mine and alumina refinery from Guinea in 2006.
In 2009, a Guinean court declared the sale null and void, backing a government suit that the deal had breached privatisation rules.
Alex Stewart International, auditors hired by the government, calculates that $830m worth of minerals have been mined since the sale, including interest. Other claims, including alleged environmental damage, could push potential damages over $1bn.
Yesterday, visiting the workers who have been holing out at Aroaima, was Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman.
President of the union, Ephraim Velloza, said that the minister spoke with workers, conducted a fact-finding mission and inspected the Kwakwani waterfront area.
The Berbice River, used to transport the mined bauxite, has been blocked by workers with drums and a wire-rope.
A vessel with logs from a Chinese concession has been caught up in this protest action.
Another vessel that has come for bauxite is there also waiting on word that it can proceed.
According to Velloza, on Friday night, workers and residents of Laddersville, a Kwakwani waterfront area, lit a large bonfire to encourage staffers and others who depend on the bauxite activities that “there is light at the end of the tunnel”.
With them was union leader, Lincoln Lewis.
“I can tell you that nothing is passing until we have the workers who were sent home back on the job,” Velloza said.
While Rusal has reportedly told its headquarters that operations has stopped, it is still stripping the ore and stockpiling.
“The minister saw for himself the situation and has a better understanding now. The operation is not closed; Rusal is operating like nothing happen. We are not allowing shipments.”
Velloza warned that the situation is not good.
“We have agitated people who are not working and have not been paid and Rusal is paying some workers.”
Rusal has refused to be part of any meeting with the union.
They have been criticized by the Government for refusing to engage the union and demanding the waterway be reopened without any commitments to reinstate the fired workers.
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