…GRA to refund over $173M to company
THE Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI, a subsidiary of Russian Aluminum (RUSAL) on Wednesday signed on to the tax-free overtime agreement for its workers more than one year after refusing to sign same.
Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott, had ordered the company to pay the workers on November 17, 2017 after representatives of the company failed to sign a three-party Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that would clear the way for the employees to be paid what was owed to them since October 2016. Last year, the company said it did not support the workers’ representative —the Guyana Bauxite Union and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) — as a signatory to the pact. The company had proposed a different approach to treat with the issue.
However, in August, then Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence, had said that the tax waiver was a done deal, but while BOSAI and Oldendorff Carrier had signed onto the agreement, BCGI had withheld its signature. The tax-free concession on overtime work was implemented in 1988. This concession was enjoyed by workers up until 2007, when it was taken away by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration.
The move by the PPP administration had adversely affected the earnings of bauxite workers from Linden and Kwakwani, and was viewed by critics as a punitive exercise for not supporting the PPP.However, on Wednesday, following a meeting with the top brass of RUSAL, the agreement was signed by the company’s Managing-Director Valerii Vinokurov, in the presence of a few invited workers of the company.
Minister Scott told the Guyana Chronicle that the deductions that were taken from the workers’ pay for overtime must be refunded. He said contact has been made with Finance Minister Winston Jordan, who will facilitate the process once an application is made by the company for the refund.“It means the union can now be at ease that workers can be assured that they’d be getting their money.
Any amount that has been paid over to the government’s income tax department, the refund would be returned upon claims for the refund,” explained Scott, who noted that RUSAL workers can now look forward to their money soon.The minister said the process should not take longer than a week once all that is required to be done, is done. “I am going to call the union in and let them know there is no longer any impasse and that any strike threat will be erased because once they see there has been movement, all parties concerned would be satisfied. Today BCGI has no problem with us, the workers and I presume the union,” Scott assured.Why so long Asked why it took RUSAL so long to comply with government’s directive, the managing-director said last year his company had no official relationship with the GB&GWU.
“Since the situation has changed, our management started a direct dialogue with the leaders of the union and GTUC’s General-Secretary, Lincoln Lewis,” said company’s representative Vladimir Permyakov, who noted that positive steps were made and a high level of mutual confidence was developed, which led to the signing of the MoU. “In the beginning of 2016, our management sent a letter to the Minister of Finance of Guyana Jordan…with hundreds of supporting signatures of our workers asking to give a waiver for bauxite workers on income tax on overtime pay and we are happy that such an incentive was given to our workers,” said Permyakov.
The company representative said it is the company’s desire to meet with the Finance Minister soon, so that the money totalling $173, 098, 397 (taxes paid on overtime between October 2016 and October 2017) can be refunded and workers paid in a timely fashion. He explained that of the 500 employees at the Bauxite Company there are approximately 300 who benefit from overtime. “We will make application very fast to see how soon we can get refund,” he stated. In a letter dated November 27, and addressed to Minister Scott, the managing-director noted that the laws of Guyana are paramount in the situation. Vinokurov was responding to a letter dispatched to RUSAL dated November 25. In that letter, he called on Scott to not view the company as “unwilling to ensure that this initiative that will materially benefit the workers will materialise and come to fruition.”It was in that missive that the company indicated its willingness to sign the MoU as requested and commence making deductions as provided therein.
“While the company values its employees and wishes to make their position as comfortable as possible, as previously stated, it would be financially impossible to make payment of sums of the magnitude …as these have already been paid over to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) in accordance with the law.”
“The only way the ministry may properly secure the due payment of those sums to the company’s workers would be for the GRA or the Ministry of Finance to issue the workers with a tax refund, which the company would be happy to request and to distribute upon receipt,” the missive continued. Meanwhile, Clairemont Ferguson, a heavy-duty equipment operator in the mines, told the Guyana Chronicle that while he is happy the MoU has been signed, he has reservations based on the history of RUSAL. He said, “I am partially satisfied…we are yet to be convinced that we are going to receive the money and very soon.
We are of the opinion and belief that the company should take immediate steps to ensure that we get the money as soon as possible.”Ferguson, who spoke on behalf of four other RUSAL employees present at Wednesday’s meeting, said, “Generally speaking the workers are not very comfortable.” He said there is a great need for the company to act swiftly as Christmas is a few weeks away. “So we are hoping that the company keeps its obligation to the workers and holds up its end of the bargain by working very closely with the government to ensure the money is paid to workers as soon as possible, because we are very, very anxious– it is overdue,” Ferguson stated as he received a nod of approval from his colleagues.
The workers told the Guyana Chronicle that they are willing to give the company an opportunity to do what they need to do to ensure the money is paid over to them.Like the workers, General-Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis, has expressed some reservations. He told the Guyana Chronicle that it is unfortunate that RUSAL has only now decided to sign the MoU. He said the company only complies when placed under pressure and has a track record of disregarding the laws of Guyana. “Basically what they don’t intend to do is respect the laws of this country.
This is a company that has been written to by the union since last month—among the issues to be discussed is the calculation of annual vacation for employees within the bargaining unit, the signing of the MoU as it relates to the waiver of income tax on overtime pay and the calculation of remuneration for all public holidays, the union has not received an acknowledgment from the company.”