…urge Lincoln Lewis to stand firm
UNLESS the Russian Managers of RUSAL make up their minds to meet with the entire Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GBGWU), including General Secretary Lincoln Lewis, who was asked to recuse himself, the dismissed workers have vowed to continue their picketing action in Aroaima and will continue to block the Upper-Berbice River.
On Tuesday, the workers participated in a picketing exercise which saw a turnout of about 250 persons, including workers and residents. The picketing started from Maple Town and ended at the Hururu Waterfront, where the river is barricaded with drums and ropes. Even as RUSAL issued letters to some terminated workers, requesting that they return to work, the workers noted that they will not be returning under the same circumstances that caused them to strike in the first place.
GOING TO THE END
One vocal worker on Tuesday said that the workers are prepared to go above and beyond with RUSAL until they decide to do one thing, and that is meet with the entire union. He said that all other demands are secondary to the union engagement. “The priority is acknowledging the union, everything else will fall into place; salaries, conditions, increase, everything will fall into place.” He said that Lincoln Lewis would have played a pivotal role in fighting for the workers and must be part of the negotiations. “He is the leader, they are the foreigners, they cannot come here and call the shots,” the worker said.
When asked if the workers fear RUSAL would completely close operations, putting hundreds on the breadline, the worker said that, that would be a glorious day for Guyana. He said the Russians came here with a communist mentality and are acting like “we need them, but in turn, it is they that need us. If they leave here it will be a glorious day for us, we were surviving before they came and we will continue to survive after they leave. The Russians need what we have, which is one of the richest bauxite in the world and for them to get what we have, they have to employ us to get it, they are badly in need of us, more than we are in need of them,” the worker affirmed.
President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, Coretta McDonald on Monday, told the media that the Russians too can pack up and leave, if they are not prepared to respect the laws of Guyana. She said the workers are prepared to pack up and leave. Lewis agreed with McDonald, noting that the company should leave if they do not want to uphold the laws. The veteran trade unionist said he will not step away from the union to facilitate a meeting. It is approaching one month since the workers have not been paid and they believe they have come too far in this sacrifice, which is more than a bread and butter one, to turn back now and return to work under the current circumstances.
Alluding to recent reports on a Russian new site, that operations have been suspended, the workers related that the Russians are operating with less than a skeleton staff at the Kurubuka Mines and have not moved all assets to the warehouse.
ACCORDING to U.S. media company Bloomberg, Russian-owned bauxite company RUSAL has suspended its mining unit in Guyana over the current labour conflict which saw the dismissal of over 90 workers for engaging in strike action.
The publication stated that RUSAL, in emailed comments, claimed that workers “declined to work and demanded a pay increase, even though their salaries had been adjusted for forecast inflation at the end of last year.”
This saw the company moving its equipment to a guarded warehouse as part of a decision taken on February 15, 2019, to suspend its mining unit due to a “massive violation of labour discipline.”
The worker related that there are only three trucks in the warehouse presently and while the blocking of the river has slowed down operations significantly, work continues in the mines. “What is on that news link is what they (RUSAL Managers), feed them with, it is not the first time, they would tell their superiors in Russia that the trucks are not working and operation is stalled but work is going on,” he related.
Although the company did not meet with the union representatives, they had a discussion with Junior Minister of Social Protection, Keith Scott, and Chief Labour Officer (CLO), Charles Ogle, on Monday and the ministry met with the union to brief them on what was discussed during the meeting. Scott said the company has agreed to make some proposals which will be given to the union for further collective discussions. He believes that industrial relations are satisfactory and as such, the company will have to come to the table at some point.
Lewis said the law provides for the ministry to call an arbitration tribunal to deal with the matter, a move which the union is prepared to support. “We heard that they want to set up a technical committee, but we would prefer that the matter go to arbitration,” said Lewis.