ANGERED by the no-show of Russian -controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana (BCGI) to a meeting summoned by Ministry of Social Protection Department of Labour, the government is now forced to explore avenues to address the level of disrespect meted out to it by the company.BCGI, the local subsidiary of Russian bauxite giant RUSAL, was on Wednesday summoned to a meeting by Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott. That meeting sought to bring together RUSAL’s representatives and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU).
However, the company was a no- show and a furious subject Minister Keith Scott told reporters after waiting more than an hour for RUSAL’s representatives that his administration will not encourage such lack of respect.
“We are totally upset and annoyed in that we summoned the bauxite company to meet with us and to meet with the union,” Scott said, noting that the company has “shown contempt to us as a ministry…government”.
Scott said RUSAL has arbitrarily determined what is right and what is wrong. He warned that RUSAL is in no position to make a decision for a union or the government. “The absence today we view very seriously,” he said, noting that government is gravely concerned about the lack of respect.
“This is something we will not countenance from either a union or from any investor whatsoever, local or otherwise,” said Scott.
According to the minister, his ministry has held several meetings with representatives of RUSAL and the union, but separately. It was felt that after several meetings with the parties that there be a collective meeting.
“Today we have called a meeting among the key persons, the ministry, the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers union and BCGI better known as RUSAL , to finally put to rest the problem that has been existing between the union and the bauxite company since the dismissal of 57 persons and suspension of 67 workers between 2009-1010.”
Scott said he believed that the matter has been prolonged for far too long and noted that given RUSAL’s blatant disrespect, a new course of action must be taken.
Over the years, the bauxite company has been found in breach of the country’s labour laws and workers’ rights, but has failed to comply despite repeated warnings by the previous administration and now, the APNU+AFC government.
Industrial action in the past by approximately 70 workers attached to the bauxite company for inhumane working conditions and below-par wages and salaries resulted in the company dismissing the workers.
“We are not going to accept this any longer; I don’t know what went on in the past with any other government, but this government over the last 17 months has made every effort to see a peaceful and amicable resolution of the outstanding issues,” said Scott.
He stressed that his ministry is not there to get into a haggling situation with RUSAL, but to see the laws of Guyana respected. “We are here to see that our country is given the respect that is due to it as an independent nation and there shall be no compromise whatsoever. We wish to let it be known our extreme anger at the behaviour of RUSAL towards us. We will not accept that!”
Scott, who was seated next to Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence and senior labour officials of the Department of Labour, made it clear that for his administration, workers and their rights are paramount.
Meanwhile, General -Secretary of the GB&GWU Lincoln Lewis said his union was not surprised by RUSAL’s refusal to participate in the meeting, noting that the company’s behaviour is not unique to Guyana, but is consistent throughout the developing world where it has investments.
Citing Guinea as an example, Lewis noted the action of frustrated workers there who were forced to burn buildings and break equipment before management of the bauxite company paid them any attention.
“We have reached the point now that this is a matter that is challenging the sovereignty of this country. When the minister can write the company and invite them to a meeting of the recognised union and they decide they are not going to come, constantly deciding that they are not going to talk to the union.”
He believes the situation is at a point where Guyanese should search for a common ground to find the way forward to “to deal with a group of people who have decided that regardless of how we see their welcome or stay, they are going to treat the workers here anyhow and they are going to flout the laws of this country.”
The GB&GWU will collaborate with the government and any other agency to ensure that RUSAL respects the laws of Guyana. “Either they respect the law or an alternative has to be done,” Lewis told the media.
It should be noted that RUSAL has not recognised the GB&GWU as the union representing its workers and in fact has prepared a document indicating that its workers no longer wish to be represented by the GB&GWU. The company instructed its workers to sign this document, which the company would forward to the Government of Guyana with the hope that “the workers’ request would be respected”.
The Guyana Chronicle had reported last month that this bauxite company told its workers that it has found a union for them, and accordingly, “they must sign the document and it will be forwarded to the Government to put the (GB&GWU) in its place.”
Meanwhile, Scott said Government has several options available to it and those options are being examined thoroughly.
“Whatever we do will be lawfully done,” he assured. Asked whether Government will be looking to issue a cease-work order to the company until all issues are ironed out, the minister responded, “Cease what? Stop doing what? If we were to have a stoppage of production that would be very well in the realm of the trade union itself calling a strike or whatever, which would then open the door for talks, negotiations or arbitration, but we have to look at all options available to us.”
Scott sought to assure the media that since entering office 17 months ago, his ministry has not been resting “on our laurels…we have been engaging them and encouraging them to come to the table.”
“You do not just jump off and say, ‘RUSAL you have been behaving bad.’ We have given them an opportunity to say let us be engaged, they have done that part, union has done that part. We have given them copies of the constitution, the labour laws, we have pointed out to them the areas where they have been going wrong…We shall take up the matter at a higher level… that has endless possibilities, including international levels. From there onwards, we are going to a new phase.”
The minister said too that his administration has a duty to the workers while stressing that “we will not stand idly by and have a company walk all over the Guyanese people.”
Like the Government, the union was tight-lipped about its plans, but noted through its General -Secretary that “we will up the ante on this matter…at the appropriate time we shall move.”
Meanwhile, the Guyana Chronicle understands that RUSAL’s plant has a capacity to process over three million tonnes of bauxite per year. Of that amount, approximately 1.4M tonnes are sourced from Guyana, while the remainder is sourced from Guinea.
Guyana’s ore has been described as a sweetener to the bauxite retrieved from Guinea. It therefore means that the quality of the ore from Guyana is better and richer than that which comes out of Guinea and so RUSAL uses Guyana’s ore to blend the mineral.
“They need the Guyana ore- the government shouldn’t walk with the idea if you pressure them to respect, they will walk away,” one expert told the Guyana Chronicle.