After a meeting on Friday between Russian-owned Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and the Department of Labour, company representative Vladimir Permyakov said they would be “happy” to reinstate all the workers if they unblock the Berbice River.
“We will be happy to recall all of them, because we cannot work when there is no conditions for restarting…because the river is still blocked,” the company representative said.
The company is operated by Russian Aluminum (RUSAL). RUSAL on Thursday last laid off 146 workers; previously, on January 23, it also laid off 142 workers. The workers affected were employed in a range of fields, including heavy-duty equipment operators and supervisors.
Francis Carol, a consultant represented the Department of Labour at the meeting. He did not wish to speak with the media.
In a written message to the Ministry, the company said the workers are unlawfully blocking national waters.
“Our main message to the Ministry and to the authorities is the blocking of the river is unlawful action according to the laws of Guyana; once the river blockade is lifted – we hope it will take place soon – company will be ready to consider immediate recall of all (288) laid off,” Permyakov said.
Permyakov said the company is losing “trust” with its investment in Guyana.
The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU), which is representing the workers, has called on the government to take a firm stand against the company.
RUSAL and the Union were engaged in a wage negotiations which dates back to 2009, for an in increase in salaries. Permyakov sited that the Union is using “unlawful” means to reach an agreement with the company.
Workers who were laid off on January 23 blocked the river in a bid to force the company not only to rehire them but to also increase their wages.
“We have many rounds of talks…but how you can negotiate something (with someone) who came to you and out a gun to your head? How you consider the person who is using unlawful methods to reach mutually acceptable agreements?” Permyakov questioned.
In 2019, the company was forced to recognize the union and a process of negotiation began but one year later, the Labour Department has not made a definitive pronunciation on the issue.
Meanwhile, 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.
Permyakov further said on Friday the company became victims of artificially created fuel prices.
“We promised once fuel arrives and when the river is unblocked to restart our operations,” Permyakov said.
He explained that RUSAL was ready to reinstate the first set of workers on Wednesday last, but they refused to unblock the river.
“We were ready to recall them, Wednesday morning [but] the river was still blocked then. We got fuel we got equipment but when the river is blocked it makes no sense to restart mining,” Permyakov said.
Permyakov admitted that the company did not inform the Ministry and the Union about laying-off the workers; he said they did not terminate the workers and therefore they didn’t have to notify the authorities.
“We have written assessment of professionals concerning Labour Laws in Guyana; they misapply section 12 part 3 as it relates to lay off. Lay off is not terminating,” Permyakov said.
RUSAL operates in Kwakwani, Ituni, Linden and Aroaima in Region 10.