Last Thursday’s altercation with the Police, workers and residents in Aroaima is another dark day in Guyana for labour. The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) will hold this government accountable for any conflict provoked by the police that result in workers’ injury or death. These are workers, these are citizens of Guyana. All they are fighting for; all they are asking for is for the Rule of Law to be applied. Is that not a right they are entitled to…is this asking too much of the Government of Guyana?
This is no longer a workers’ struggle alone. It is a workers’ struggle supported by the four surrounding communities in the vicinity of the Aroaima mines. And unlike 1948 (Enmore Martyrs), 1999 (Public Servants) and 2012 (Linden) when citizens were brutally gunned down by the colonial police and the police under the Janet Jagan and Donald Ramotar governments for standing up for their rights, the Coalition has the opportunity to offer a different way. It has the opportunity to avoid having workers’ blood on their hands by moving to arbitration. Arbitration is all the workers are fighting for, which is a legal process ensconced in the Grievance Procedure.
GB&GWU recognises that for some reason successive governments and ministers with Labour portfolio seem limited in what they can do and what they are prepared to do. As a result, they are not doing what they must do. That is, follow the law and let the process flow as outlined. The exception to this attitude was the Donald Ramotar government, whose Minister of Labour, Nanda Gopaul, imposed compulsory arbitration as per Section 4 of the Labour Law, though political machinations scuttled the activation of same.
At this point of the industrial concern, it is for government to admit there is failure to achieve a resolution between both parties, and hence, the next step in the process must be activated. We must ask why in 2020, in the second decade of this dispute between the GB&GWU and Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI), workers should be fighting for application of the law, a law that already exists for this government to enforce. It is unacceptable!
Since last year August, the 20th to be specific, the GB&GWU has been asking the Department of Labour for arbitration consistent with the Grievance Procedure. This seems to be going nowhere, because the politicians and technicians are foot-dragging in what appears to be a willful, orchestrated ploy to deny bauxite workers their right, and destabilise the Union. It is not that they don’t know their actions pose a threat to our sovereignty, but there are other factors that determine their limited performance and efforts to bring about closure to this matter.
This is the month when Guyanese are marking the 257th anniversary of the Berbice Slave Rebellion – another labour struggle – led by national hero Cuffy. We are also marking 50 years of republican status – half a century ago when we severed the final yoke of colonial governance. We must ask ourselves why with such formidable legacy, and in this significant milestone, impotence or complicity cripples some from doing what is right.
Why must an issue this serious where a foreign capital is disrespecting our laws and people, and practically setting up a state within a state, there isn’t any determined effort to rein them in. Why are we divided on an issue that should see us united in putting nation above partisan interest? How can some not see when our nationhood is threatened that our status as first-class citizens in our own land is equally threatened, as the RUSAL management is attempting to do with the workers employed at BCGI?
And whereas media reports noted the Leader of the Opposition spoke out on the impasse and blamed the government, nowhere was it mentioned any blame attributed to RUSAL for violating our laws and transgressing the rights of workers/citizens. This could suggest, even in dire times, a support that is only about politicking, it is not for the workers.
All over the world, history shows people have fought and continue to fight for the Rule of Law. Some have given their lives for it. It is the Rule of Law that gives us peace, that allows us to peacefully co-exist – nation to nation, community to community, people to people. It is already written; bauxite workers are not fighting to have it written, they are fighting to have it upheld.
It seems as though the laws are only for the poor and working class, and only they are likely to suffer in the process of upholding same. We have witnessed countless acts of corruption and lawlessness by the rich/connected and the law not enforced for them. Clearly, this has become a struggle for survival. Workers have to struggle against politicians unwilling to support the law that serves the workers’ interest. Sometimes survival results in confronting the powers that be.
(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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