…Govt summons RUSAL to conciliation meeting today
THE Ministry of Social Protection’s Labour Department has stated that “enough is enough” regarding the RUSAL standoff and has once again invited representatives of the company for a conciliation meeting today.
In a release yesterday (Monday, March 11, 2019) the department said that the call for the meeting was in keeping with the Labour Act, as the impasse had dragged on for far too long. “The ministry would like to notify all and sundry that the differences subsisting among the workers of the RUSAL, the management of RUSAL and the administration of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union have gone on for far too long and it is time that they be resolved in the interest of all stakeholders including the nation,” the release stated.
“It is time that normalcy be restored and, while all previous attempts have yielded very little, the Ministry feels that the time has come when all parties should realise that ‘enough is enough’, and approach all issues with magnanimity.”
The fallout began mid-February when employees of Russia Aluminum (RUSAL), the major partner in the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BGCI), protested against the company’s imposition of a one per cent wage increase.
The employees also protested against other grievances such as unsafe working conditions at the company. Subsequent to the strike, BCGI issued an edict evicting a number of workers and their families from Maple Town, Aroaima, a residential community owned by the company, while some 90 workers were fired.
Social Protection Ministers, Amna Ally and Keith Scott; Minister of State, Joseph Harmon; Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman and others from the Labour Department previously met with the RUSAL executives but a resolution is yet to be arrived at. Much contention still exists.
“We had made four small demands of RUSAL and to date none seems to be successful; as a matter of fact what has been happening is that RUSAL is making demands of us,” said Minister Ally at a recent meeting.
“This is something we will not tolerate from RUSAL at all…I said in my first engagement with the company that they are very unreasonable and Government is not going to allow that.”
The company refuses to acknowledge the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) as the representative of the workers while the sacked employees have not only picketed this decision but have retaliated by blocking the Berbice River to stymie the company’s shipment of bauxite.
On the other end, RUSAL has declared that it had not been making profits in recent years hence its insignificant wage increase. It also stated that the company was left with no other alternative but to terminate the workers who took part in strike action while additional workers were terminated due to the company’s closing of sections of its operations.
Last Saturday, Minister Trotman visited workers at the site of the river blockage to receive a firsthand report on the matter. “I am giving support as best as I can… But as the Minister of Natural Resources, I believe it is my duty to go and meet and to hear from them [workers on strike], as we have heard from the company,” he had said, later adding:
“I don’t believe that we could continue as we have been for too much longer and in my personal view… if that relationship is so fractured, perhaps it is time we look elsewhere… we can’t have workers crying out like this; they are Guyanese… I met fathers, I met mothers, I met persons who haven’t seen their families in over a month, and it is heart rending and I believe something has to be done soon.”
His remarks came even as the Minister ordered the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to conduct a technical and legal assessment of all RUSAL operations following reports of malpractices.
Meanwhile, GB&GWU General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis, has described the company’s actions as entirely disrespectful making clear his call for the Government to head to arbitration as provided for in the Labour Act. Although arbitration remains an option, the Government agreed from the very inception to examine all options with the hope that “good sense prevails”. The release stated: “The Ministry is hopeful that all Parties will accept its invitation and address the issues with the maturity [they] deserve.”