By Kurt Campbell
Minister of Labour, Joseph Hamilton during a tour of Aurora Gold Mines (AGM) on Monday, had cause to warn the new Chinese led management, Zijin Mining, over attempts to “hand over” some 117 workers to its Chinese sub-contractor, Sinohydro.
Hamilton met with employees at the Region Seven location and said he saw a “document that suggests that AGM is handing over 117 employees to a contractor.”
The Minister told the employees he already spoke to management about the issue and was informed that the letter was wrongly worded.
Hamilton said notwithstanding the assurance that the employees would be consulted properly for a legal transfer, it was still distasteful and offensive that in 2020 someone would conceive the thought that they can “hand over” workers.
“AGM don’t own nobody, they can’t hand you over… you’re not the property of AGM,” the Labour Minister told the workers.
Hamilton said Sinohydro is not a sister company and the lawful channels must be followed to allow for a legal transfer of employees after proper consultations.
The News Room spoke with Compliance Director, Peter Benny, who has been working with AGM for several years even before it changed hands from Canadian to Chinese management.
He explained that the 117 employees up for transfer are persons who were rehired by the company on a three months contract. Those contracts come to an end in December 2020 and January 2021.
Benny said those workers were hired to work on stripping off the mines but since those duties will no longer be handled directly by AGM management, Zijin Mining, those positions longer exist under the company.
As a result, the 117 temporary employees will be given the option by sub-contractor Sinohydro to work for that company when their contracts end.
“So, the company [AGM] did not transfer them, the company will wait until their contract expires at the end of the three months,” Benny told the News Room.
But Hamilton, who discussed a range of other issues with both employees and management, said the government expects that when foreign investors come to Guyana and are facilitated to invest and make profits from their investment, they must also respect the rights of workers.
“Let me tell you that if you never felt confident before in a Minister of Labour, you can feel confident with this guy that is standing before you,” he said.
Hamilton said he will continue to press foreign companies, especially in the mining and oil and gas sectors, to ensure “equal pay for equal work”, where locals and expatriates are paid alike.
“I will not tolerate expatriates coming and working and they are paid more than Guyanese who are doing the same job,” said the Labour Minister.
Hamilton was also strong in his call for workers to be represented by a union or worker representative organisation and called on AGM to facilitate this.
But Benny has said that there is a union at AGM – National Mine Workers Union – of which 90 employees of the more than 300 workers are members.
He said the 90 persons is 30% of the existing bargaining unit.
The Minister also raised the issue of overtime pay to which Benny assured that workers are paid according to the law.
“We don’t work 40 hours here… we work 12 hours a day and 28 days straight, 14 days off. After eight hours, employees are paid time and a half Monday to Friday. On Saturday, they are paid time and a half and Sunday they are paid double and holidays and even employees who are home on their turn around and it’s a holiday they get eight hours pay,” he said.
Hamilton told the workers that Monday’s visit was his first but it will not be the last.
“I will not allow no companies to come in this country and set up plantations here. I’ve said this to the mining and I’ve said to oil and gas companies, this country belongs to you.
“People who have the means they are coming to ensure we benefit at the same time they will not be allowed to take advantage and treat you anyhow and have you work in conditions that expose you to harm and danger,” he assured workers before leaving.