BCGI, Bauxite Union far from reaching an agreement – Lewis

Representatives from the GB&GWU outside the Department of Labour on Monday. From left are: GB&GWU General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis; BCGI Union Secretary, Leslie Junor; BCGI Union Vice President, Garfield Brutus; BCGI Union President, Ephraim Velloza; and Union Consultant, Ramon Gaskin (Samuel Maughn photo)

GENERAL Secretary of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU), Lincoln Lewis, said the GB&GWU and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) are very far from an agreement, as the two sides began conciliation proceedings on Monday at the Department of Labour.

The two sides are scheduled to return to the Labour Department for a second meeting next Tuesday as they work towards a solution over wages and salaries for workers at the company.

“We are far from having an agreement, very far from having an agreement. I am not guided by atmosphere, I am guided by results. We are far from moving towards having an agreement on this issue of wages and salaries,” Lewis informed following the end of the almost two-hour long meeting.

The union, last week, refused a three per cent pay increase offered by the Russian Aluminium (RUSAL)-controlled company and wrote the Department of Labour to initiate the conciliation process. Last week, the deadline for a response from BCGI on a Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) and salary proposal expired. The CLA and salary proposal were submitted since early May by the union.

Lewis, on Monday, accused the company of dragging out the issue.
“The time between one meeting and the other is not encouraging. The culture here is you meet every week, sometimes every day, if you have to, to hammer out a situation; their situation you have to wait two months before you can meet and you have to raise other concerns before you meet. We are far from an agreement and you are not requesting that we meet as we ought to?” Lewis noted.

Lewis said the union is calling for equivalence between the salaries offered by BCGI and that offered by one of Guyana’s other bauxite mining company, BOSAI, which operates in Linden. BCGI operates in Kurubuka in the Berbice region.

The union is contending that despite BOSAI having harsher conditions in their bauxite extraction, it pays wages and salaries far superior to those offered by BCGI.

“We are asking very clear for parity in the bauxite industry. In pay in the bauxite industry in Linden and the bauxite industry in Berbice, there is a disparity, you must pay the same thing. The characteristics may be different. In Linden, if you want chemical grade bauxite, there is a mine that you have to go to, if you need metrological grade bauxite, you may have to go to a separate mine, but in Berbice, all the bauxite is in one mine. The bauxite in Linden is deeper. So your operation cost is less in Berbice because the mines are shallow, so all that we’re saying is pay the same thing,” Lewis explained.

In a salary proposal, the union said it looked at the salary scale at other bauxite companies, for similar and same job categories. According to a statement from the union, BCGI currently pays minimum and maximum wages at a rate of $335 and $655 per hour, respectively.

The company has asked for time to consult with its principals in Russia.
Presiding over Monday’s meeting was Chief Labour Officer (CLO), Charles Ogle, who will act in the capacity of a conciliator.

The company attended the event with a six-member team that included RUSAL Executive, Vladimir Permyakov; BCGI Personnel Manager, Mikhail Krupenin; Labour Consultant, Mohamed Akeel, a former CLO; and Attorney at law, Andrew Pollard.
Aside from Lewis, the union was represented by BCGI Union President, Ephraim Velloza; BCGI Union Secretary, Leslie Junor; Representative, Laston George; and Consultant, Ramon Gaskin.

According to Ogle, he informed the parties that time is of the essence since five months have already elapsed since the employees ended a five-week strike.

“I would’ve said that they have to come to a decision as early as possible. Time is not on the side of anyone because it is five months plus has passed since the strike. The parties must bring closure to this matter,” Ogle explained.

“The Ministry is always here to intervene if they want to negotiate by themselves or for the Department of Labour to conciliate. The parties must bear in mind that the next stage is arbitration. The company said that they need time to do their verification, check with the principals and come back,” he added.