RUSAL recognises union

General Secretary of GB&GWU, Lincoln Lewis

…agrees to meeting to lay out concerns
-but strike will continue until discussions are over

RUSSIAN-owned Bauxite Company, RUSAL has agreed to engage in bilateral discussions with the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU), a step down from its initial refusal to meet with the union if its General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis was present.

The company and union have been at odds for close to a decade, and the situation worsened recently when RUSAL fired a number of workers who had protested a meagre salary increase. It had also declared that it has not been making profits in recent years and will be closing sections of its operations, while laying off some 91 workers.

“We have decided that we need to meet bilaterally starting on Friday,” said Lewis in an invited comment following a meeting with RUSAL, the union and officials of the Ministry of Social protection on Tuesday.

“The union shall submit to the company, a list which will form part of the discussion,” said Lewis, adding that the list will include all the issues affecting the workers of RUSAL and the union. Matters which will be included on the list include the rehiring of workers who were sacked and other matters which have been affecting workers for years. The company is also expected to submit a list of issues which are affecting them.

The outcomes of the meetings will be reported to the Ministry of Social Protection until there is a decisive conclusion. Lewis believes that the discussion will be one which will build trust and confidence in the relationship between the union and RUSAL.

Despite not recognising the union in the past, the company has made it clear that it will recognise the union in the interest of the workers and nation. Lewis said it is necessary for both sides to work together in the interest of the workers and the country.

The recent fallout between the parties has caused a nationwide stir because RUSAL has been operating in Guyana for many years as a major employer of Guyanese.
The dismissed workers had taken strike action on February 15, 2019 to protest a one per cent increase in salaries for 2019. The workers have since blocked the river at Aroaima where the company’s bauxite-laden barges have to pass to go to the transshipment station for loading onto ocean-going vessels.

Although the parties will be meeting, Lewis said the strike action will continue until a solid decision is made. “I want to commend the guys on the ground…the way forward was made possible because of the workers who have been striking,” he said, adding that the strike is an indication of the quality of men and women who work with RUSAL.

“There was no collective agreement since 2009 and there are lots of matters pending, so we need to sit at a table and iron out the issues after which we will move to the next step,” said President of the Guyana Trades Union Congress, Coretta McDonald, in recent interview.

Despite the lack of consultations, RUSAL had made demands of the union and ministry, calling for the river to be unblocked because they are paying $1M a day.
RUSAL had been “totally” disrespectful to the government, said Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally, after the company had submitted proposals to normalise the situation created by the sacking of workers. Minister Ally had lobbied for reinstatement of the fired workers.

She made it clear that government’s main interest is to protect the rights of its citizens. Ally said instead of respecting workers and recognising the union, RUSAL has been making demands for the river to be unblocked.