By Bibi Khatoon
Bauxite workers at Araoima, Region Ten wants RUSAL (Russian Aluminum) to be ousted from the country to make way for another investor to take over the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI).
“RUSAL should pack up and leave. Let a next company come because they are doing nothing for us, let them go,” said Ivan Leacock, one of the 326 sacked employees that RUSAL fired with immediate effect on February 3, 2020.
The terminated workers are from Linden, New Amsterdam and the communities of Ladern’s ville, Maple Town and Hururu Mission – located in close proximity to the mine site.
Ladern’s ville, Maple Town and Hururu Mission were developed by bauxite workers in search of jobs.
“RUSAL must go!” the workers and residents chanted as they held up placards calling for the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) to be respected.
During a visit by the News Room team to Aroraima on Saturday, the employees severely criticized the Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour for failing to stand up to the Russian company.
Leacock said he worked in the industry for about 27 years but the treatment meted out to workers by the Russians are the worst in history.
According to Leacock, RUSAL pays Guyanese workers meagre salaries and refuse to grant any benefits while the living quarters were left to deteriorate.
“RUSAL don’t want to pay Guyanese workers no money at all. Right now we are being paid under the Government minimum wage and we are working twelve hours a day… before they come, we used to get three weeks [leave] after five years and now is just two weeks,” Leacock told the News Room on Saturday.
“They send them machines away, let them go behind it,” another worker said, referring to the company’s decision to export some of its mining equipment while engaging the Government and the Union on a settlement.
Some of the equipment were held up by the Customs Unit of the Guyana Revenue Authority.
In the meantime, RUSAL had started to ship some of its mining equipment back to its destination.
Since the workers were fired, they have blocked the Berbice River as they await a decision from the Labour Department on the way forward.
As a result, RUSAL has two full barges with ore waiting to be exported.
On Thursday last, the Police in the area tried to remove the temporary blockade but the residents instead used their canoes to block the river.
The residents and employees have set up a camp at the river and take turns guarding the blockage.
“What we want them to do is respect our laws, if possible pack up and go, bottom line is pack up and go because they have no respect for us,” a heavy-duty operator, Ephraim Velloza said.
He explained that the workers were all fired without notice but RUSAL has since paid off their severance. It is unclear how the company arrived at the figures paid but the Labour Department was expected to complete a full calculation and make it available to the company and union.
The 326 sacked workers are all represented by the union and account for almost 100% of the company’s workforce. For a decade, the union and RUSAL have been engaged in a battle for increased wages and salaries.
Initially, the company refused to recognise the union but this changed in 2019 following intervention by the Department of Labour.
The GB&GWU is asking for an 8% increase to be on par with other bauxite workers’ remuneration across the industry. In 2019, the company granted a 1% increase and the two sides entered into conciliation which has not borne fruit.
The union is now calling for arbitration but for this process to move to the next stage, the Department of Labour needs to declare a deadlock which is yet to occur.
With duty-free concessions and two shipments containing 3,000 tonnes of ore per day from the mines in Region Ten, the workers are adamant that the company can afford to pay them on a scale that is offered at the Bauxite Mineral Group Guyana Inc. (BOSAI).
“We’re asking for parity within the bauxite companies in Guyana,” Steve Cornett, a Mechanic said as he described the salary received as “chicken feed.”
The wage is placed against the cost of living in the communities which is high due to the fact that commodities have to be transported from Linden and Georgetown which are located two and four hours away.
RUSAL has been operating in Guyana since 2009 and owns 90% of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI).
Prior to that, the bauxite mines at Aroaima were operated by The Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) which later handed over the operation to its Canadian associate, Alcan.
The mining operations in Region Ten was later taken over by the Government followed by Reynolds Metals of Richmond before it fell into the hands of RUSAL.
Chairman of the Ladern’s Ville community which is located a short distance away from the campsite, Victor Kersting explained that even with that magnitude of export from the mine, there is still a large amount of ore left in the pits for another company to take over the operations.
RUSAL mined out the Aroaima mine and is currently working at the Kurubuka mine in the same area, but has rights to other deposits.
“They have about 18,000,000 tonnes of ore remaining in that Kurubuka pit based on my estimate, and then we have the Kookrit deposit which is about 15km north-east of this location and that has approximately another 25,000,000 tonnes of ore and you have the Badda deposit going towards the Ituni creek, that has about 20,000,000 tonnes of ore and if you go east towards the Corentyne, there is the Corentyne deposit as well,” Mr Kersting explained.
To arrive at his estimates, Mr Kersting used drill hole information of which he is knowledgeable.
He debunked claims that Guyana’s ore is not of good quality but instead said the method used by RUSAL is bad.
“Their mining method causes great contamination of the ore,” he explained.
When RUSAL terminated the majority of its staff earlier this month, it also relocated its foreign workers and suspended its operations.
The company said the suspension of BCGI will have no impact on RUSAL’s overall performance, as the expected decline in the overall bauxite supply from Guyana will be substituted with raw material from other mines.