Bauxite union rejects RUSAL’s 3% pay hike

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GB&GWU General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis

…writes Labour Department to begin conciliation

THE Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU), has rejected a proposal for a three per cent pay increase from the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), owned by Russian company RUSAL, and has written the Department of Labour (DoL) for deliberations to move to conciliation.

BCGI Union Branch Secretary, Leslie Junor, confirmed that the company made a proposal to the union on Tuesday afternoon and it was immediately rejected. “We had made an offer to them, they send back a counter proposal saying that they can only afford four per cent and out of the four per cent they already give us one per cent, which we strike [because of] earlier in the year. So they are saying now that the one per cent is being discounted and they are giving us three,” Junor said.

The workers are maintaining that the company can afford more. “We are not going for that. We have engaged the union officials and they will make the necessary arrangements to follow up on the matter on their end because BCGI/RUSAL can afford more than three per cent, three per cent is a gross insult it’s like they giving us the same one per cent. So right now we have engaged Mr. Lincoln Lewis,” Junor explained.

A truck that toppled last Saturday at the RUSAL/BCGI bauxite mines due to poor working conditions

Workers are also questioning a component of the company’s counter proposal where they claim that from 2009-2019 workers were given a total of 46 per cent in salary increases across the period. “The company said that from 2009 they have paid us 46 per cent, so for this year they could only afford 4 percent. But questioning the employees that were here since 2009 they can’t make their calculations reach 46 [per cent], how they come to 46 [per cent]? Because since I am here it’s only been a 1.2 [per cent] and 1.1 [percent] and I’ve been here five years,” commented an aggrieved employee.

He passionately denounced the three per cent proposal, saying it pales in comparison to what Guyana’s other bauxite company, BOSAI, is offering its employees. “Three per cent to me is a disrespect, due to the conditions here three per cent can’t happen, can’t happen at all,” the employee affirmed.

“Alongside with the bauxite company BOSAI, three per cent is nothing. Because BOSAI rate is far over our own and we are in the interior location whereas BOSAI is actually in a town where most of the workers go home to their family when we have to wait 14 days.”
GB&GWU General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis, subsequently informed workers that the union had written the DoL requesting conciliation. Lewis declared that if conciliation does not work, the union is ready for the deliberations to move to arbitration. “This union is prepared to go the distance, even if it requires going to the end of the earth. We shall pursue justice on behalf of our members and the workers employed by BCGI,” Lewis affirmed.

Lewis called the proposal “unacceptable”.

Working conditions at RUSAL/BCGI bauxite mines

“We have received from BCGI a proposal that we consider unacceptable, we did not expect better from them and it is for that reason that we advised that we will be proceeding to conciliation. We have today dispatched a letter to the Labour Department requesting conciliatory procedures. We expect that within the week we shall have a response from the Chief Labour Officer [Charles Ogle] advising to a date for the conciliation. Understand that any failure at conciliation shall proceed to arbitration,” Lewis said.

Over the weekend union officials had indicated that this week would see the expiration of the timeline whereby a response was expected from BCGI on a Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) and salary proposal that was submitted by the union since early May.
BCGI Union President, Ephraim Velloza, said the workers are willing to follow the union, and like Lewis said, go the distance. “Whatsoever they do we are prepared, we are not taking anything less than what we’re bargaining for and that will send them a clear message. If we said we want that, we know and we work out the stats and we see that it is lucrative enough,” Velloza conveyed. He cautioned however that any action taken will be within the confines of the law.

WORKERS PREPARED TO GO DISTANCE
“The workers are hyping up, the guys are done prepared for anything. But we don’t want to do nothing out of our constitutional rights so we’re taking it one step at a time, because these things could get very drastic. Remember school coming and people ain’t seeing no money coming and these kind of stuff, and the conditions haven’t improved at the camp, every day they trying to take us by storm. So we are waiting on the government intervention and for the company to reconsider their offer,” he said.

Over five months have passed since employees ended a five-week strike, and the company agreed to recognise the Union, work on a new Collective Labour Agreement, and address salary and other concerns of workers. In early May 2019, a proposed CLA was submitted by the union to the company but nothing has been forthcoming from the company since.
The strike had started on February 15, after the company imposed an arbitrary one per cent pay increase on employees, three days later some 61 employees were fired and the Department of Labour (DoL) summoned the company. Sometime later another 30 employees were laid off. The strike officially came to an end on March 21, and all terminated workers were reinstated. The workers complained that since then, the conditions at the mines have not improved.