— gov’t maintains company must reinstate sacked workers
RUSAL workers whose services have been terminated, have joined forces and blocked the Berbice River in the vicinity of the Kwakwani Waterfront, in an effort to stymie movements of barges and water vessels transporting shipment of bauxite from the mines to the plant and for further transhipment purposes.
Approximately 60 workers assembled at the Waterfront area, where they tied ropes with drums and other items together and created a barrier across the river.
The peaceful protest action was well-organised as the workers divided themselves into shifts and recruited the services of safety officials who are guiding other domestic river users, so as to prevent accidents.
“We have reflectors and so, we have personnel working in the day and the night, just to put safety measures in place; we don’t want to affect anyone else, just the barges and so, because we are aware that RUSAL is loading and shipping bauxite as per normal, so we want to slow up that operation, so they can quickly come to an agreement with the union and the government,” one worker said.
On Tuesday, RUSAL officials met with Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally and junior minister Keith Scott along with other labour officials. One of the conditions laid out for reinstating workers by the RUSAL managers, is for them re-apply in the company’s current rehiring process. The workers say that they will not re-apply for any new position, as it would mean their years of services would go down the drain.
“Some people working for 10 years, all the years and all the benefits will go down the drain,” one concerned worker said. He also related that some of the terminated workers are being called in by office personnel in RUSAL to work, but many of those would have refused because all of the sacrifices made over the last 11 days, would go down the drain. “We will not be going back to work under the same conditions, until RUSAL meets with the government and the union and put pen on paper, then we will resume to work,” he said.
Meanwhile, Region 10 officials have expressed their concern for the welfare of the workers, calling the mass dismissal, a regional catastrophe. About 90 workers on Monday were issued with termination letters that were penned on the 18th and 20th of February. The correspondence dated the 18th February, addressed workers who participated in strike action on February 16. That letter states that because of their decision to withdraw their services on the said day, the company was left with no other alternative but to terminate their services. The letters, penned on February 20, were addressed to additional workers, who did not take part in the strike, informing them that that company is closing sections of its operations, hence the reason for their termination.
Both letters were signed by Company Manager Mikhail Krupenin. While the majority of workers received same by mail, others were issued letters directly from the office on Monday in Aroaima. The latter letters were penned just one day before RUSAL’s manager Vladimir Permyakov and Director of Alumina and Bauxite Department, Sergey Kostyuk met with a delegation of ministers and labour officials in Georgetown. At that meeting, the company did not relate that it would have penned termination letters to more workers and that they will be closing sections of the company’s operations.
INFRINGING ON SOVEREIGNTY
Regional Chairman Renis Morian on Monday believes the government is on the right track in instructing RUSAL to rehire the workers, since the workers have a right to strike. He described RUSAL’s stubborn act, to not reinstate them as an infringement on Guyana’s sovereignty.
“If we don’t deal with RUSAL, it will send a message to the oil sector and other sectors that you can treat Guyanese badly and get away with it, so I support the call by the Honourable Amna Ally and the government, that RUSAL, must forthwith rehire the people… this is not Russia, no Guyanese can go to Russia and do what they want to there; it must not happen and this must be the red line; it must not cross again by no other foreign company in Guyana,” Morian affirmed
Region 10 Member of Parliament (MP) Jermaine Figueira said he is anxious and disturbed about the fate of the workers, as he has been in receipt of numerous calls from them.
“Grown men I tell you and some you can hear the tears and the venom of anger in their voices and it is quite understandable. They have families to feed, a lot of people depend on them to provide including the businesses in the communities they are from,” he related. Figueira reassured the workers of government’s position, which is, all of them must be reinstated and their rights respected.
“The respect and rights of our citizens cannot be undermined by anyone, it should not be encouraged nor accepted and I am very happy with the firm stand of the government,” Figueira said. He said it is not about chasing investors away, but they respect must respect local laws and people.
Those sentiments were echoed by MP Audwin Rutherford. He said the government has to play hard ball with RUSAL, since the company appears to be stiff-necked.
Rutherford also noted that the first step RUSAL can take to restore good faith is to engage the union. “Start to engage the union, immediately,” he said. While the government had given RUSAL up to Wednesday for the situation to return to normalcy, things seem to be getting worst.