ExxonMobil employs many workers, but many of them aren’t employed directly. They are employed via a sub-contracted employment agency. It turns out that this may be a very clever strategy.
President of the Guyana Trade Union Congress, Lincoln Lewis, addressed this matter on last Thursday’s edition of Guyana’s Oil & You, the first and only radio programme dedicated to educating the populace on Guyana’s Petroleum sector.
Pointing to the practice by the oil major, Lewis told Kaieteur Radio that one of the reasons for doing so is to make sure that there isn’t a large enough group of workers together who will want to join a trade union. It also keeps them from bargaining directly.
The use of employment agencies to hire a large number of workers is a regular occurrence in the petroleum sector, and the benefits to the company are obvious.
In Guyana, if 40 percent of the workers in a bargaining unit register to join a certain union, that union becomes the official representative of those workers. As a result, the company would be bound to negotiate with the union about matters related to treatment of its employees.
But if hiring is done through a sub-contracted employment agency, a company like Exxon would not be bound to negotiate with a union.
In addition, the company would generally not have to worry about tax liabilities and employee benefits. That would generally be the job of the employment agency.
And because these workers are contracted through an employment agency, ExxonMobil would have more flexibility to hire and fire, depending on its business needs.
Lewis told Kaieteur Radio that resistance to and avoidance of union negotiation with oil companies and oil service companies is very common in the sector.
There is the case of Totaltec Oilfield Services Inc., a company which Lewis said fired one of its employees for refusing to sign a contract that would prevent him from joining a trade union. Lewis has committed to raising that matter with the President, as a worker’s right to unionisation is enshrined in the law.
It is compounded, he explained, by the limited capacity of the labour department.
“These foreign companies come in here and consider Guyana to be a low wage destination,” Lewis said.
“And they feel they can do anything because you have agencies such as the labour department that don’t have the resources to go out there to monitor them.”
He said that investors tend to oppose unions because of what they can do for workers, but he is of the firm view that every worker who wants to be unionised should be unionised.
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