‘The battle is not over’

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…but workers welcome talks between RUSAL, union

STRIKING workers of RUSAL breathed a collective sigh of relief after receiving the news that the company has agreed to meeting with their union – Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union. However, they were quick to point out that the “battle is not over”, vowing to remain on strike until the matter is fully settled.

There was some celebration at Maple Town, Aroaima on Tuesday, where about 250 RUSAL workers are camping out on a ‘long- haul’ strike for close to a month. They are elated with the company’s decision to acknowledge their elected union and to hold engagements as early as Friday.

Speaking with the Guyana Chronicle was employee Ephraim Velloza, who is also the President representing RUSAL workers, who are members of the union. Velloza said that while the striking workers have won the war, they are still to claim the victory. He is however, confident that this will be done in the near future. “The workers here are in a joyous mood; we are celebrating; what they wanted is now coming to the table and that is for the company to recognise the union. The first step was to acknowledge the union and we have that, now everything else: reinstatement of workers and all of that are part of the package.”

He said that while the company’s acknowledgement of the union is a great achievement, the strike continues until all agreements are placed in black and white. Velloza said he is hoping that the issue can be mutually resolved in the earliest possible time, since the barricading of the river is affecting other stake holders, such as the Kwakwani Loggers Association. RUSAL is reportedly losing up to $1M per day as a result of the river blockage. “When everything is in black and white, then the barricade will be removed and then we will return to work,” he related.

HIGH COMMENDATIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT
While acknowledging every stakeholder and entity that stood in solidarity with them through this tumultuous time, Velloza said that out of all, the government must receive high commendation for sticking with them until this matter is resolved in their favour. “The government must be given 90 per cent compliment for ensuring this speedy conclusion today. We must commend the government and the ministers, our union…we must commend the people, the community that stood with us and give us the support, some of the private sector that stood with us and the media for giving us full coverage and making this thing go viral,” he said.

The employee and union representative said that he is also calling on the company and the government, which has 10 per cent shares in the company, to look into the conditions of the road and the crossing in Aroaima that is used by schoolchildren, which needs urgent upgrading.

Speaking to another striking worker, he said that he is happy that their struggle was not in vain and reiterated that the struggle was not only for the striking workers, but for future employees of not only RUSAL, but other foreign companies. “We were not doing this for us, we were setting a record, that workers in Guyana must be treated with respect and dignity and must be given a voice,” he said.

For those workers who were part of the less than skeleton staff that continued operations at RUSAL, while the majority was on strike, he said they will not be discriminated against as the struggle was for them too. The workers also commended the government for their support and provision of supplies as well as the union. He also relayed that strike action continues, until agreements are in black and white.