Jan 19, 2021 Letters
The eleven-year-old impasse is still active between the Bauxite Company Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) based on law and the principles and practices of industrial relations. Note is being taken that the Government is seeking to present a position to the contrary. The BCGI impasse is not closed because the Minister of Labour feels or says so.
Industrial relations is not governed by gut-feelings but a body of rules. In the practice, no minister or Chief Labour Officer can determine the closure on any grievance. That prerogative is vested in the aggrieved as to whether the aggrieved considers the matter closed or an arbitrator has handed down a decision. The arbitrator’s decision is final and binding on the parties that are involved in a grievance or difference. The minister is not an arbitrator but chief conciliator according to industrial relations practices and Labour Law.
In the specific case between BCGI and GB&GWU, there are two issues before the Ministry of Labour to be conciliated:- 1) The continued negotiating of the new Collective Labour Agreement which includes wages/salaries and conditions of employment; and 2) Computation of terminal benefits paid to workers in 2019 and 2020.
BCGI is a registered company existing in Guyana and has legal responsibility to meet all its liabilities under the law. The company is jointly owned by the Government of Guyana and RUSAL (Russia Aluminum) and has refused to negotiate wages/salaries and working conditions over a number of years.
The Grievance Procedure-ensconced in the Collective Labour Agreement which is a legal document-clearly states that in pursuit of settling any grievance when the parties (union and management) fail at bilateral negotiations either party can request Conciliation through the Ministry of Labour. If the parties fail to arrive at an agreement at Conciliation either can request arbitration. In industrial relations, this is referred to as Voluntary Arbitration.
Any act by the Minister or Chief Labour Officer to refuse in declaring deadlock after Conciliation failed is a breach of the Grievance Procedure which is legal and binding on both parties (union and management). The Union and BCGI did not arrive at an agreement during Conciliation but the Minster is refusing to uphold what is a legal and just industrial relations process by declaring a deadlock in order that the parties can move to arbitration to settle the impasse.
The Government is engaging in acts to skirt its legal responsibility under the guise that BCGI is closed. The negotiation not only addresses the future but also the past. Even if RUSAL intends to terminate its operations in Guyana BCGI is still legally obligated to honour all its financial and legal responsibilities for the period when active. This is what the government is not getting or deliberately choosing to ignore.
With regards to terminal benefits (at #2), in the Union’s calculations, it was found several persons were not paid what was due to them based on their rate of pay at the time of termination. The Ministry has been asked to address this issue. In the Union’s first meeting with the Ministry, which was chaired by Gillian Burton-Persaud, advisor to the Minister, she claimed that she was unaware of the identified issues and as such, needed to seek advice and return.
There was a second meeting, held on 28th December 2020, which lasted less than 10 minutes. Ms. Burton-Persaud communicated to the Union that BCGI is closed and the identified outstanding issues are also closed. She thereafter exited the meeting.
Clearly, the extant issues are not outside the scope of law or anything illegal the Union is requesting to be addressed. The apparent problem is the failure by the Ministry to uphold the Laws of Guyana. It is opened for speculation whether the government is doing this to spite bauxite workers and/ or Union leaders or has become beholden to foreign capital to the extent where they are prepared to ignore the laws and allow these businesses to trample the rights of Guyanese labour. We must ask the question because successive governments and ministers are talking the talk and not prepared to walk the walk.
Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton has not presented any law or precedent that precludes him from executing his responsibility as requested by the Union.
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