There have been efforts by rank and file employees of Guyana Goldfields to be recognised by the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TUR&CB) but those efforts have been met with staunch resistance from the Canadian company’s administration, according to President of the National Mine Workers’ Union (NMWU), Sherwin Downer.
A letter from President of TUR&CB and Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle, dated June 11, 2019, details a request made to Human Resources Manager at Guyana Goldfields, Peter Benny, to submit documents pertinent for the recognition of workers below the supervisory level at Buck Hall, Essequibo River.
That request is in keeping with Section 18 of the Trade Union Recognition Act, for which the documents requested by the Ministry of Social Protection’s Labour Department, are the payroll with names and designation of the workers within the Buck Hall bargaining unit, and the signature sheets as of May 11, 2019.
The letter requested that the documents be submitted by June 18, 2019.
But according to Downer, Benny did not show up with the documents on that date.
When Kaieteur News contacted Benny, inquiring about Downer’s claims, he said that Aurora Gold Mines Incorporated (AGM) – of which Aurora is the mine and Guyana Goldfields is the parent company – received a copy of the letter and consequently met a Senior Labour Officer.
Benny said that, during those discussions, it was pointed out that NMWU was seeking recognition for employees who are part of a much larger bargaining unit, “including Aurora, Tapir [on the West Bank of the Cuyuni, and] Buck Hall [on the Essequibo] and even Georgetown.
“Buck Hall is not a company but a unit within the company whose employees are transferrable from location to location.”
Benny said that workers are usually moved from unit to unit very often, depending on the needs at other locations and equipment.
Downer doubts that there is truth to that statement but even so, he contends that Benny’s objection to the process has no merit, since the application form lists “location(s)” thereby accounting for multiple units.
Yet, he said that Benny’s claims halted the process altogether, and that last Friday, an attorney-at-law attached to the Labour Department said in a meeting that the Ministry must review the law to accommodate Guyana Goldfields.
This caused Downer to question whether the Ministry is allowing Goldfields to circumvent any laws, and whether it is taking directives from the company to deny its employees unionisation.
“To say they have to review the laws to accommodate or please Goldfields is alarming and cause for grave concern.” Downer said.
He added that to say that laws must be amended to suit one party, in this case, Goldfields, gives the impression that the Social Protection Ministry is advancing the company’s interests, rather than professionally executing their duties.
Downer continued, “The union has to be recognised by the union board and labour department, after a survey is done to determine whether the union has 40 percent or more of the workers’ support” at any of the locations.
The NMWU President has called on the Labour Department to explain why it has not started the process to carry out that survey.
This is not the first time, he said, that the administration of Guyana Goldfields has resisted efforts to have its workers unionise.
But he is urging Goldfields to show respect for the labour laws and to respect the wishes of its employees to unionise.
“As President of the NMWU, I extend an olive branch to Goldfields and I urge the company to be part of the solution.” Downer said.
Over the past year, Kaieteur News has been contacted by several persons purporting themselves to be employees of Guyana Goldfields, detailing abuses allegedly meted out against them. Several of them named Benny as someone complicit in the alleged abuses.
Kaieteur News has been unable to substantiate these claims, since most of the persons, claiming to be fearful of persecution, neglected to give key details about their identities and/or were unwilling to go on record.
Downer said, after being informed that employees were unsettled by conditions in which they operate, the administration, particularly Benny, warned the staffers not to voice dissatsfaction with any public officials. Downer added that in one instance, Benny had threatened to cut off the internet connection of workers at one location after learning that they were using it to make complaints about the conditions under which they were working.
This, he said, rang true for a ministerial visit during which workers could not freely express their grievances.
Benny told Kaieteur News, “Only recently, we had a media tour which gave the media an open field day to mix with and talk to both management and employees in an uncontrolled environment.”
To the allegations of workers’ rights abuses, Benny responded “AGM Inc. has not in any ways, blocked its employees from organising…
AGM Inc. is still the best employer in the private sector and staying ahead of its commitments to the Government of the day, the country as a whole, and our hundreds of suppliers who have been with us all those years. We stay faithful to our ideals.”
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