Below are my thoughts expressed exactly ten years, four days ago on the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated/RUSAL (BCGI) and the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) industrial dispute. At the time I was residing in Barbados, serving as General Secretary of the Caribbean Congress of Labour. Said letter was published by Kaieteur News and titled “The bauxite workers’ struggle is about workers’ rights and govt. abuses.”
It is now one decade later, and I am proud to say bauxite workers remain resilient and steadfast in their demands of the employer, and are prepared to make sacrifices as they continue the struggle for as long as it takes. The people of the surrounding communities and families stand in solidarity with bauxite workers, and as long as the workers are prepared to stand up for justice, a decent pay, and better conditions of work, the union’s executive is prepared to stand with them to give direction and leadership. Our struggles will not be over until justice is served to every single worker and all those who are affected.
The Coalition Government on March 20th 2019 saw to it that the Russian management of BCGI recognise the GB&GWU. Outside of that, the only other change is that of regime change in 2015.
As we prepare for another elections, bauxite workers must seriously ask themselves what changes they need to see in their lives and how best these can be achieved. These questions must be asked of the Coalition Government also.
Are they satisfied that they are best representing the workers of this country and protecting the sovereignty of our nation when one decade has passed and BCGI has not been called to voluntary arbitration. The road to travel continues to be a tough one but labour will survive as it always does.
(The following is my letter published on Dec 11, 2009):
From a distance I have followed the struggle for decent wages and, improved working conditions of bauxite workers. I am proud and encouraged by their determination in standing up in unity and strength.
Amidst the pride I feel for their struggles, as my spirit walks with them, it is with much sadness that I write today, for clearly our beloved country is making backward steps from the pre-colonial struggles when National Labour Leaders from Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, Joseph Pollydore, Jane Phillips-Gay, Andrew Jackson and several others still active today believed, or for some at least advocated their belief, in workers’ rights and solidarity.
Today bauxite workers stand alone as some leaders who walked with them prior to 1992 forget the very principles that projected them into national politics and public life. Those who they supported during the years past are also silent. I have observed their efforts, notwithstanding the show of bad faith by the BCGI to continue negotiations. The fact that BCGI has not responded to the GB&GWU at the time of my writing is a clear indication that this company is anti-worker and prepared to conduct acts of lawlessness against BCGI workers, the bauxite community and in our beloved country. It cannot be allowed to happen so!
The bauxite workers’ struggle is a struggle about workers’ rights and government abuses. It is not merely a struggle against a foreign employer violating their rights. It is about the People’s Government supporting a foreign business investment partner to violate the rights of Guyanese Labour. It is about transgressions of the Laws of Guyana.
It is the Government of Guyana (GoG) and RUSAL which together make up the employer and the company known as BCGI. Together they have conspired to violate the rights of their employees, the rights of bauxite workers and once again an effort to dis-empower African Guyanese economically. This is what I speak of when I say there is an orchestrated effort to destroy the lifeline of a section of our society. This is economic genocide! It is a rights violation. It must stop!
The Minister of Labour, Mr. Manzoor Nadir, in addressing the grievance between BCGI and bauxite workers stated that BCGI has rights. Worthy of note is that the Minister, who should be protecting Guyanese Labour and ensuring that the laws of the land are not violated by any, failed to say to the struggling masses that they too have rights and that his Ministry is prepared to ensure that these are protected.
As peaceful and law-abiding citizens, bauxite workers know that both employer and employees’ rights must be mutually respected, and any violation should be dealt with within the confines of the mutually agreed principles and laws. It therefore must be a blow to them to see and hear the tacit support for the violation of their rights by a foreign employer and those who are elected to protect and serve this nation.
I know that given the current state of our environment this is no surprise to the workers and people of Linden, Kwakwani and Aroaima, who must now know that they have to shape their own destiny and continue to struggle not just for what they believe is right, but what they know to be right and lawful. If they allow anyone, including BCGI and the politicians, to trample on their rights without resisting, it will only be a matter of time when they will want to dictate their life and that of their families.
Bauxite workers have a right to a union of their choice and to demand that this be respected just as they have a right to a just pay and better working conditions. The employer has the responsibility to respect the union of their choice, pay a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work and ensure their working environment is free of occupational health and safety hazards. Our forefathers and mothers struggled for this and they must not fail to do the same.
BCGI, which is owned by RUSAL and the GoG, has a responsibility as the employer of bauxite workers to operate/manage within the confines of the laws. The GoG under President Jagdeo cannot hide behind RUSAL by not taking responsibility when it retains part ownership of the bauxite company and is guardian of the Laws of Guyana.
Workers’ rights are enshrined under Article 87 of the ILO Convention which speaks about freedom of association at the workplace. This Convention was embraced by the Guyana Government in 1966 and BCGI must respect it or face the brunt of Guyana’s laws.
The Guyana Constitution respects the right of workers to join a trade union of his/her choice. Therefore, the arrogance of BCGI in wanting to de-recognise the union must be seen as an affront to the workers’ constitutional rights and all citizens of Guyana must collectively and continuously hold them to the law which is supreme.
The passion demonstrated by the bauxite workers is exemplary and worthy of emulation and support by every law-abiding citizen, in every community, and the country as a whole. The reactions by BCGI to their call for increase wages and acceptance of their proposal are unconscionable. Shutting down the operation, suspending and firing workers, including the union leaders, tell of the mindset of the employer.
This is a management operating in bad faith, which has no regard for our laws, workers’ rights and time honoured principles. This disrespect must be countered by strong response from workers and citizens alike. The laws of Guyana must be held sacrosanct.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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