Sep 06, 2022 News
…stakeholders call on Local Content Secretariat to intervene
By Zena Henry
Kaieteur News – Guyanese working in the oil and gas industry continue to beg local authorities to pay more attention to their working conditions, claiming exploitative measures are being implemented by some support companies in securing their services.
Many workers from different contracting services have complained bitterly to labour unions and even this newspaper about payment and other work-related inadequacies. The most recent complaint came just days ago when President of the National Mines Workers Union of Guyana (NMWUG), Sherwin Downer, told the Kaieteur News that workers from a support services company, with whom they previously had grievances, was again “circumventing” labour laws that allowed them to secure workers’ services, while ditching their responsibility to the staffers. Downer highlighted that workers attached to the Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana Partnership Company, Trinidad Offshore Fabricators Unlimited (TOFCO) and Guyana Oil and Gas Support Services (GOGSSI), were facing several challenges brought to his attention including being sent home for long periods without any notice on their return to work.
The workers say they were no longer being placed on probation with the possibility of becoming permanent staff, but are now on contract with their employers being able to sporadically send them home when their services are no longer needed. Downer said that the workers claimed to be forced into signing the employment contract which apart from giving the employers control over when the staffers work, also requires them to pay their own taxes and other obligations.
Other complaints are that Guyanese are being punished, including being dismissed for speaking up against inconsistencies and that they were being paid less than their Trinidadian counterparts- some of whom are deliberately being kept in Guyana longer than they should to do jobs that Guyanese should have by now been in control of.
GOGSSI Director, Nicholas Boyer in addressing the issues denied firstly, that Guyanese workers were being threatened or pressured to sign the employment contracts. Boyer explained to the newspaper that staffers hired to work in the Saipem Yard are provided by TOFCO, which secures Trinidadian staffers and GOGSSI, Guyana staff. He said that the partners provide workers as demanded by the Saipem Yard when work is available. As such, the Guyanese workers were placed on contract since work in the fabrication yard, are project-based and would only be available when a project has to be completed. He said staffers were not threatened to be fired or not paid if they did not sign the contract because it would mean less Guyanese in the yard, “and we only get paid based on the number of Guyanese workers we provide.” It is the same for the Trinidadian partner as they too are paid based on the number of workers available.
Boyer said that indeed some Trinidadian workers are being paid more than Guyanese, but this is because of their experience. He reiterated that what is next is “…after Guyanese would have acquired the necessary skills, then they would take over.” Boyer reiterated that since the joint venture has to provide the staffers and only gets paid for manpower provided, it is obvious that workers cannot be kept on the job when there is no money to pay them.
This newspaper has received credible information however that there seems to be deliberate moves to make Guyanese the scapegoats when limited work is available in the fabrication yard. The source told the Kaieteur News that while the Guyanese arm of the joint venture has been hiring the local staffers, it is actually the Saipem yard that gives the workers their mandate and determine who will work during the low season. It was explained that the joint venture is a registered company with just a yard manager at the Saipem location, so orders come from the owners of the yard.
The publication was told that the owners of the yard provided the contract terms and the company had to provide the contracts to workers according to that. The source confirmed as well that workers are being sent home without notice from the yard as the contract is suited for them to retain workers only when there is work. “To cut cost, the workers are being sent home since there is no work to be done at the time, but Guyanese are the ones being placed on pause.” “And this is something that has to be fought for at the local content level with the subcontractor, because they (workers) do have a point, for instance, some of the work is being completed and it might be that they are being sent home for a couple of months until the new work starts… and that not fair. It’s hard to be in such a position.”
The source continued that even Guyanese companies are being left in the middle because they merely provide the staff. The Trinidadian company will fight for their workers to remain since that is how they are paid and this is despite their staff having to be reduced so that Guyanese could take over. Also, they are more interested in keeping the Trinidadians knowing that they already have the skills.
This newspaper had reported some time back that the Guyanese staff in the joint venture had been sent home for months because there was not enough work, while the Trinidadians were being kept onboard. The newspaper was told that since that report, the local workers were made into ‘independent contractors’ responsible for all their employment obligations. When the joint venture landed the Saipem contract last December, Boyer had told the media that “TOFCO were the ones who had done the first project and we have worked to create this joint venture company and train locals to do the same thing.”
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