The local subsidiary of Russian bauxite giant RUSAL has pulled its expatriate staff out of Guyana, fired 326 Guyanese workers and suspended its operations along the Berbice River.
RUSAL owns 90% of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI).
“We are not producing anymore,” Vladimir Permyakov said Monday morning.
At the time, he was speaking in a meeting with Social Protection Ministers Keith Scott and Amna Ally, Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle and other labour officials. The meeting was held at the Ministry’s Lamaha Street, Georgetown office.
Minister Keith Scott criticised the company for having taken a decision to terminate staff even before meeting with the Ministers.
“You came here in search for a way forward, you don’t know what we would have been offering, you don’t know whether we could have said this is your solution but you’re already telling us now that you came full well having determined to terminate everybody…this is bad faith,” Scott said.
He added that the workers are being used as pawns in a disagreement between the company, the Government and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU).
The Minister also noted that by law, the company is required to notify the labour department before terminating staff but failed to do so.
Permyakov argued that the decision was taken as an emergency but this was refuted.
When the company had initially laid off 288 workers, it argued that the blockage of the Berbice River by the affected workers was significantly affecting its operations in Guyana. The representative also pointed to a steady decline in the Aluminum price on the world market.
“We came here to hear when the blockage of the river will be [moved],” the local representative said.
Permyakov informed the Ministry that the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) is stymying its operations since the company first refused to grant duty-free concessions to import its fuel and the Customs Department has been blocking the re-exporting of its mining equipment to Russia.
The Government, including the GRA, has refuted such claims, noting that it has granted the concession but Permyakov said this was done too late.
The heated exchange led to Minister Amna Ally telling the company it is okay for them to leave but this must be done in accordance with the laws of Guyana.
“We cannot allow for our workers to continue to suffer in this respect so if we have to go to arbitration, we are going to go to arbitration and let us make a decision.
“Unfortunately, I have to tell you that if it’s a case that RUSAL wants to leave under this Government to go, then do it the normal way,” Ally said.
The Minister, unaware of the company’s intention to suspend its operations, said a later meeting will be held as she called for RUSAL to reinstate all workers and proceed to the Collective Bargaining agreement to settle decade-old wage dispute between the company and the workers union.
Shortly after the meeting, RUSAL –one of the largest aluminium producers in the world –announced on its website that it is suspending its operations due to ongoing “unrest.”
It referred to the blocking of the Berbice River which has delayed its export as serious illegitimate actions that have gone beyond the control of the government and enforcement agencies and arson of the electricity pylon basement and other corporate property.
The company said written notices of termination have been sent to 326 employees.
“As the unrest impacting the Company’s operations continues, RUSAL believes the opportunities for doing further business in Guyana are now severely limited. On the grounds the security and safety, all expatriate employees have been relocated,” the company said.
The suspension of BCGI will have no impact on the Company’s overall performance, as the expected decline in the overall bauxite supply from Guyana will be substituted with raw material from other mines, the company stated.