The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&WU) on Friday said it will not back down until the Russian-owned Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) agrees to re-employ 142 staff, who were laid off on Thursday, and pay them for days lost.
“The protest shall continue,” President of the Union, Lincoln Lewis said on Friday. The workers have resorted to protests and blocking the upper Berbice River through which the bauxite is transported.
The company laid off the workers due to “a shortage in fuel.”
According to Lewis, the company said it was not granted approval for duty-free concessions to import fuel into the country but said a check with the Guyana Revenue Authority has proven otherwise.
The letter to the employees was not given to them individually but was posted outside of the workplace in Region Ten on Wednesday evening.
The Union is upset by this move since the Termination of Employment Act states that at least one month’s notice must be given to employees.
As such Lewis is calling on the company to reinstate workers and also pay them for the days which they were not allowed to work.
Lewis bemoaned the way in which the Guyanese workers are being treated by the Russian-owned company.
He noted that the union on Thursday engaged the company in the presence of the Labour Department but instead of trying to solve the issues, RUSAL is focused on defending its move.
The Union and the company have been involved in a wage dispute dating back to 2009.
According to the trade unionist, the wages paid to workers at RUSAL are way below what is paid to bauxite workers employed with BOSAI.
“Right now, if a crane operator operating BOSAI is getting $100, the crane operator working with RUSAL is getting $48 per hour,” he noted.
The company has refused to increase wages and had instead decided not to recognise the union.
The Government in 2019, following another wage dispute which saw some 90 workers being fired and later reinstated, forced RUSAL to recognise the Union.
Due to this, the President of the Union believes the company is on a mission to get back at the Government using the workers.
“This Government has forced them in 2019 to talk to the Union against their own will; they will do anything to embarrass this Government and that is what they’re set out to do and my concern is they’re meddling in our internal affairs,” he said.
Lewis said the Union has been pushing for the wage issue to go to arbitration but the company refuses to involve a third party.
“Let me say to you, this issue of wages and salaries, we will not relent until such time as we get a settlement or this matter has been referred to arbitration and they’re prepared to sit at the table,” he emphasized.
RUSAL owns 90% of the Bauxite Company of Guyana and was given licences to develop bauxite deposit groups along Linden, Kwakwani and Ituni.