– company claims GRA blocked duty free fuel imports
Russian-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) is in the news again, sacking over 140 workers on Wednesday.
Workers reportedly retaliated, claiming the sackings were illegal and have since blocked the Berbice River, in the area of the Kwakwani river front.
Yesterday, the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) insisted that actions by BCGI, which is owned by Rusal, one of the biggest bauxite companies in the world, smacks of a planned attack on democracy aimed at creating political turbulence.
General Secretary of the union, Lincoln Lewis, believes that the timing is suspicious, with indications that local parties are fueling the tensions, ahead of the March 2nd elections.
The sackings would come almost a year after workers shut the Berbice operations of BCGI, in Region 10, for over a month after a number of workers were sent home. The situation only ended after a government team intervened, but there is a current standoff over salary increase.
Vessels with logs were stranded in that Upper Berbice River area for weeks.
BCGI has been clashing with consecutive governments, sometimes refusing to attend meetings with labour officials and unions. The company came under fire after it was learnt that despite over US$100M in fuel concessions since it came here in the mid-2000s, it failed to pay the Government of Guyana, which owns 10 percent of the company, any dividends.
Other than employment of over 300 staffers, there were little other benefits, derived for the country. Yet, BCGI continued to ship the bauxite out by the boatloads monthly.
BCGI had reportedly attempted to sell its heavy duty equipment, shipping them from the Kurubuka mines area to New Amsterdam, but tax officials from the Guyana Revenue Authority blocked the sale.
According to the letter sent from BCGI to staffers, the company said that it is forced to reduce operations and layoff a number of staffers due to shortage of fuel.
“Unfortunately, the employees listed below are affected by the reduced operations and have to be lay (sic) off effective from 23rd January, 2020 to be recalled as soon as the situation stabilizes…”
The correspondence was signed by the Russian manager.
“Our sovereignty is facing further threat by foreign forces who want to direct or influence our show in Guyana, and it is not without support by some internal forces. It must not happen. Not in the 50th year of our republican status, which not only signifies but cements, the complete severing of the yoke of colonial domination and foreign interference. We are not going back there, willingly or kicking and screaming. No way, comrades,” Lewis told workers.
He denied the company’s claim that it cannot import fuel, and therefore stressed there was no reason to send home more than 140 workers.
“It is an excuse the management is using and we must ask for what purpose and who are the intellectual authors and likely beneficiaries behind this move, for evidently the management must know their conduct will be stoutly questioned.”
The union officials said that the BCGI management is in receipt of a letter where approval was granted for duty free importation of fuel.
“Having been caught in this deception, the management has changed its tune. Workers of Guyana deserve to be treated with respect in Guyana. Workers have had enough and the blocking of the Berbice River which started this (yesterday) morning is testimony to this.”
Lewis insisted that there will be no relenting this time.
“This gentleman agreement business don’t wuk for some people. As proud descendants of Cuffy, Accra, Damon, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow, the Enmore Martyrs, Cheddi Jagan, Forbes Burnham, Jane Phillips-Gay and others, we say enough is enough.”
Government has ordered a special team to look into the operations of a number of companies in the extractive sector…one of the companies is BCGI.
Meanwhile, the union disclosed that at the request of the Department of Labour, it met yesterday afternoon with Chief Labour Office, Charles Ogle, and the management of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI).
“This meeting was instigated in reaction to the company laying off more than 140 workers with effect from today, Thursday 23rd January, on the pretext that it was not granted approval by the Government for duty free importation of fuel. This is not true. The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) issued that letter of approval. When the management was confronted on the deception the position was changed, that the laying off is the result of the company scaling back operation.”
The union said that the BCGI management was advised by the union that the manner in which the workers were laid off constitutes a departure from established industrial relations practice and Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, in that the Department of Labour and the Union were advised beforehand of the planned action.
“The management’s response was that it was given expert advice to operate in the manner it did, including posting the list of workers to be laid off on the Notice Board.”
The union insisted in a statement that the company and the Chief Labour Office and BGCI were advised that the layoffs were in violation of established industrial relations practice and must be rescinded.
“The two workers (Glendon Tinnaman and Mario Harris) who were electrocuted last November in and during the course of their duties, the issue must be settled and the workers compensated…”
The union said that it will facilitate the opening of the Berbice River on the condition that the issue of wages and salary be settled now through arbitration or some similar condition.
“The Chief Labour Officer informed the union and BCGI management he will be sending a report to the responsible Minister. In the meantime, the union continues to stand with the workers to ensure resolution to the stated grievances.”
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