…Lewis says company in breach of labour laws, refuses to pay salary increases
THE People’s United and General Workers Union (PUGWU) is concerned about the continued refusal by Australian-owned gold-mining company Troy Resources Inc, to meet with or negotiate with the union, even as it has terminated the services of over 300 employees.
The union recently wrote the company contending that the workers were fired without requisite notice being issued either to employees or the union, as required by law. PUGWU President Lincoln Lewis, says this most recent disregard of labour practices adds to an ongoing situation with the company over the past few years. “It is clear that the company over the years is not comfortable dealing with the union at any point; and while they are speaking about how much food they are giving to workers and how much other things they are doing, what they need to say to the Guyanese public [is] what percentage wage increase they give this year and when they intend to conclude wage negotiations, which includes increase in pay for workers,” Lewis questioned.
Troy Resources, which has a history of developing and operating mines in both Australia and South America, has been operating in South America since 2002 and in Guyana since 2013, after buying over Azimuth Resources Limited. It is said to have acquired the company for some US$100 million. The company said it later invested an additional US$75 million to set up operations subsequently.
The company also has operations in Brazil and Argentina; however the company ceased its Brazil operations in 2016 and sold 70 per cent of its Argentina operations, according to the company’s annual report. Facing financial issues for some time now, the company is banking heavily on its operations in Guyana at its Karouni Mines in the Cuyuni-Mazaruni region. The company is currently involved in open- pit mining while considering underground mining in the future.
However, Lewis contends that all may not be as it seems. “The company has received over the years a number of tax concessions and it is unfair and unjust for them today to say to this nation that their performance is uneconomical, when in fact the senior managers in this company receive in excess of US$30,000 per month. It is in the balance sheet. Even their auditor said that they cannot verify the numbers that are in the book, in a number of areas,” Lewis said.
The company has been in the limelight since the October 8 death of geologist Ryan Taylor at the company’s “Hick’s One Extension” pit. Since the occurrence, PUGWU has contended that Taylor’s death was avoidable, as the union has been raising concerns over safety at the pit with the company for over a year. “As we speak about local content the union is convinced that for Troy Resources local content means the creating of jobs that are below the standards established by the ILO [International Labour Organistation]. Conditions that are unsafe and more so paying wages that are not commensurate to an operation of its nature,” Lincoln said.
“Today we are hearing that they are considering to do underground mining. And we hope that the EPA, the GGMC and the OHSD will hold these people accountable; because if they can’t be trusted in performing a proficient job in managing an open-cast mine, God help the workers who they are prepared to send underground.”
Lewis said after receiving multiple reports from members over concerns at the mines, and receiving no commitment from the company to rectify, the union did the justifiable thing of writing the necessary oversight bodies: the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Department of Labour (DoL). Lewis asserts that since the union reported the matter to the authorities, the company began making it even more difficult to negotiate.
“Troy Resources was written to around May  by the PUGWU asking for negotiations [on wages and salaries]. They took a long time and when a reminder was sent to them in August, they said that the proposal was with the CEO and he is the persons who wants to deal with it himself. But in fact we cannot remember meeting this man, for the last two years we haven’t met this man,” Lewis said.
On a media tour of the mines on November 14, the company contended that salary increases were not feasible, noting that the company was paying relatively higher salaries than other companies in the industry. The company has some 512 employees, of which some 83 per cent are locals. Lewis note that instead of dealing with the union, the company started to address the issue with the workers.
No pay increases
“They immediately sent out a circular to the workers stating that they are not in a position to pay increased wages and salaries; this was done before any engagement with the union. The union at that time, recognising that the company has taken a position of reluctance to discuss wages and salaries, wrote tthe DoL requesting conciliation and a meeting was convened early August.
Minister Scott advised them that what they were doing was in bad faith and requested that the circular be withdrawn… they gave the commitment themselves to withdraw the circular. But instead of withdrawing the circular, they presented what we consider another nasty circular accusing the union and other personnel of behaving in bad faith,” Lewis said.
Lewis said it was further worrying that when the company was written to for a meeting, Troy responded that the executives were out of the country, at a time when evidence was presented that they were on local soil. He noted that workers also sent pictures of the executives on site at Karouni, when they said they were out of the country. “On every occasion that they said that managers are not on site the union’s representatives took out their photographs. On the 1 or 4 November we wrote them.
The company wrote back stating that no senior manager is in the country. But the following day in afternoon hours the senior managers met with Amna Ally in their office,” Lewis said.
Additionally, Lewis said the union was also restricted in visitations to the operations, noting that while the union was allowed to visit the camp, they were not allowed to visit the mines where operations took place.