If we think Russia’s interference in the United States’ election, at the invitation of some who are today the beneficiary, and the timidity of others to publicly disavow such misconduct, lest they risk the wrath and see their political demise instigated by the world’s most powerful cannot happen here, cat will eat our dinner.
RUSAL came to Guyana in 2007 at the invitation of the Bharrat Jagdeo government. It owns 90% of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) and the Government of Guyana the remaining 10%. This deal is still shrouded in secrecy, but what we know is that RUSAL president Oleg Deripaska was sold more than four acres of prime land to build a vacation home when many Guyanese have been waiting years to get a house lot.
Recently, media reporting allowed for some insight into the revenue BCGI is depriving this nation. There remains concern after 10 years the company is still not declaring a profit which is an excuse to deny Guyanese their dividends. The lawlessness was facilitated by consecutive PPP governments, and efforts to rein it in by the Coalition obviously won’t sit well with a company that was allowed to run wild and is disinterested in being a good corporate citizen.
Since 2009 BCGI management has been operating as though Guyana is not a sovereign nation and its people possessing the right to self-determination as ensconced in our rules, laws and culture. This contempt is not only felt by the workers employed there, but also persons residing in communities around the company.
Residents have had to contend to pay toll to traverse on their own road, afraid to speak out lest they face retaliation. Workers had to stare down efforts to deny them the right to a union of choice; confront the threats of one general manager to bash their heads and bury them; had to suffer the indignity of rodent-infested food prepared for them. The list goes on and on.
Things came to a head in November 2009 when the workers’ representative, the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers (GB&GWU), resisted management’s effort to accept a paltry pay offer. The company retaliated by breaking off negotiation, then proceeded to threaten the workers that they either take it or leave. The workers left and began industrial action consistent with their constitutional right.
Instead of seeking resolution consistent with the Collective Labour Agreement, management dispatched a ‘de-recognition’ letter to the Government and Union that it no longer recognises the Union, though no law makes such conduct permissible.
When workers expected the Jagdeo Government would have stood in defence of the Constitution and Laws of Guyana, nothing was forthcoming. To that administration, workers were mere aliens in their country. It was only determination that kept them going, along with support from well-wishers and an Opposition (PNC and AFC), whose support they sought and could rely on.
The leadership joined the workers in street protests. In 2010 they brought a motion to the National Assembly expressing no-confidence in Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir’s handling of the matter. Support was also received from the international community who joined workers in petitioning the government to intercede and sent messages of solidarity. Jagdeo remained unmoved.
For the record, the Ramotar administration sought to resolve the impasse. In 2012 Minister of Labour Dr. Nanda Gopaul imposed Compulsory Arbitration, but this effort was scuttled by hidden hands with ulterior political motive.
Last year, workers proceeded on industrial action protesting the imposition of a one-percent pay increase and firing of more than 60. Whereas some condemned the attack on our sovereignty by the Russian management, the Opposition PPP remained silent. Pleas to set aside partisanship in the presence of foreign aggression did not sway the party in breaking its silence. We need no further evidence where its allegiance lies, who the Russians would rather have in office, and the distance foreigners will go to achieve this.
Undeterred, and after 35 days of industrial action, on the 20th March 2019 Terms of Resumption (ToR) was signed by the Union and management in the presence of the Chief Labour Officer (CLO). The role of the coalition in making this possible was communicated by its strong signal to the company of its intolerance to the violating of the law and transgressing of workers’ rights. The ToR established the parameters for the parties to proceed in resolving outstanding grievances, including negotiating a new wages/salary package.
The process has been stalled not only due to BCGI’s intransigence, but also unwillingness on the part of the Ministry of Social Protection to see the matter to finality by ensuring the enforcement of the Grievance Procedure and Laws. The Procedure allows for the parties to engage in negotiation, where this fails, they move to conciliation under the chairmanship of the Labour Department, if conciliation fails the parties move to Voluntary Arbitration where the cost is borne by both.
Conciliation has failed. The next step is Voluntary Arbitration, which BCGI is reluctant to engage in. It should be said this violation is being given tacit support by some within the ministry.
Those issues were made known to the Government and company at a meeting held at the Labour Department under the aegis of the CLO last Thursday. The meeting was called by the Department in response to the company unlawful laying off of 142 workers with effect from the same day on the deception that government did not grant approval for the importation of duty-free fuel. This is the extent the Russians will go in flouting our laws in pursuit of a particular political outcome.
That same day patriots rose up, returned to the Berbice River and blocked it. I’m advised to communicate the River shall remain blocked until justice is served. That River not only serves as the route for transporting bauxite for export, but a strong reminder that within her water flows the blood of Guyanese ancestry, on her bed lies their bones, and every wave holds within its fold centuries-old stories of a people’s valiant struggle against oppression and domination. Guyanese are not moving until the foreign eye-pass stops!
(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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