The Ministry of Social Protection is being called on by the National Mine Workers Union of Guyana (NMWUG) to answer for what appears to be inefficient handling of the current labour issue concerning Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), the local subsidiary of the Russian company, Rusal.
Workers have refused to leave Aroiama, a housing area in Region Ten under the company’s control, after they were fired in February, over their objection to an arbitrary one percent increase in pay.
The latest action concerning that matter is a meeting, which occurred on Friday last at the law office of Hughes, Fields & Stoby, at Hadfield Street, Georgetown. The nature of that meeting’s execution is being questioned by Sherwin Downer, President of NMWUG, who is concerned that it did not sufficiently involve relevant stakeholders.
One concerned Aroiama worker, who was among the first to be fired by BCGI, reached out to NWMUG and told Downer that he is worried that the meeting, held on March 15, was done in such secrecy. The workers would like to know why the meeting was kept at the private lawyers’ office, and not at the Social Protection Ministry’s boardroom.
Reportedly present at the meeting were Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) President Leslie Gonsalves, General Secretary Lincoln Lewis, Assistant Secretary Sheldon Thomas, and BCGI branch leaders Ephraim Velloza and Sheldon Thomas. Vladimir Permyakov, Mikhail Krupenin and Mohamed Akeel represented BCGI.
The union, after the meeting, had sent out a release that the parties met in “an amicable environment” to hold discussions, where the union advocated for the dismissed workers to be reinstated and for the barricade in the Upper Berbice River to be removed, since it prevented the movement of the company’s barges. The union noted that it laid out a set of terms for the situation to gradually return to normalcy, and another meeting is scheduled for March 19.
The company’s representatives related that they have to consult with officials from BCGI’s parent company in Russia, before they could declare on whether they would accede to any of the union’s demands.
Some workers are unsure whether they can trust the union to operate in their best interests.
Downer told this publication that it was a challenge for the union to get a meeting with representatives of BCGI in the first place, and now, it is unfortunate that a meeting was held without the involvement of labour or other government officials.
Downer said that though BCGI has indicated that it needs to consult with its mother company in Moscow in its considerations of the workers’ demands, he believes that the BCGI representatives are not being honest.
Downer is calling on the labour department and the Ministers of Social Protection to answer for what appears to be lackadaisical handling of such a matter. He asked, “Whose idea was it that the meeting be held at the lawyers’ office instead of the ministry boardroom?”
He said that the people of Guyana have been invested in this issue since it started being carried by major media outlets, and that the people still “have a right to know what was discussed there”.
He is calling on the two social protection ministers, Amna Ally and Keith Scott, as well as Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle, to tell the country why they chose to out of such an important meeting, and to answer why the meeting was held at a private law firm, specifically that law term too, instead of at the ministry’s boardroom.
On behalf of the workers, the NMWUG is questioning the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.
“We must be honest and sincere in our endeavours to represent these workers’ interest,” Downer said, “Whose interest was represented [in that private meeting]? The workers are now left in the dark?”
He said that the government should stop taking baby steps and take strides, and further, that all of the workers at Aroiama deserve humane working conditions, acceptable remuneration, and respect for their rights. He said that NMWUG stands firmly with the workers.
“The National Mine Workers’ Union of Guyana calls on BCGI/Rusal to reinstate all dismissed workers without conditions, and show respect for the labour laws of Guyana.”
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