Bauxite union says Gov’t afraid to deal with foreign companies

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The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) is calling on the Government to take a firm stand against the Russian-owned Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) which has laid off some 288 workers.

The company, operated by Russian Aluminum (RUSAL), and the Union are engaged in a wage dispute dating back to 2009. In 2019, the company was forced to recognise the union and a process of negotiation began but one year later, the Labour Department has not made a definitive pronunciation on the issue.

President of the bauxite union, Lincoln Lewis, told the media at a press conference at the Critchlow Labour College (CLC) on Thursday that he is “getting the clear impression that people are afraid to deal with these foreign companies.”

The union is contending that the employees of RUSAL are being paid the least across the industry.

He added: “I don’t believe that many politicians today are rooted, ideologically or understand philosophically what their role is in preserving the interest of the nation and the people.”

RUSAL on Thursday laid off 146 workers in addition to 142 laid off on January 23.

The first set of workers were laid off due to shortage of fuel the company said, but this was disputed by the Union and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) which said it granted duty-free concession to the company to import fuel.

RUSAL’s letter to employees

This time, the company said it is forced to take this action “due to adverse operating circumstances including shipment interruption due to the blockage of the Berbice River.”

The river was blocked by the first set of affected workers in a bid to have them reinstated.

The workers were not individually handed letter but rather notified via a list posted at their place of work in Region Ten, with the names of affected persons at the end of Wednesday –similar to a method used on January 23.

The union is contending that by law, the workers and all other stakeholders are entitled to one month’s notice.

At this juncture, the union has pledged to continue the fight until all of its workers are reinstated and paid for the days which they were laid off.

“I am saying to them that we will continue the struggle. Let me tell you something, it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees,” Lewis affirmed.

RUSAL owns 90% of the Bauxite Company of Guyana and was given licences to develop bauxite deposit groups along Linden, Kwakwani, Aroaima and Ituni.

The union is calling on the Labour Department to declare a deadlock in the wage negotiation process which it is facilitating as this will allow the union to request arbitration.

Thereafter, the department will facilitate the arbitration process to finally settle the wage dispute.

The GB&GWU feels that RUSAL is being backed by a political party. Lewis did not name the party but alleged that the foreign managers have indicated to workers that they are interested in the removal of the current Government.

Coretta McDonald, a trade unionist who is on the Coalition Government’s list of candidates for the upcoming elections was also at the press conference on Thursday where she noted that the Minister of Social Cohesion, Amna Ally is being engaged on the matter.

The union will on Friday visit the workers affected in Region Ten after which it will ascertain its next move.

The News Room earlier contacted Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle who said the department is dealing with logistics before it meets with RUSAL to address the matter.

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