Bauxite Union to mark one year anniversary of unresolved BCGI dispute with protest

Monday, November 22 marked one year of bauxite workers’ struggle for economic and social justice.

These workers are employed by the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI), a company owned by Russia Aluminium (RUSAL) and the Government of Guyana.
 
The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU), the union that represents the workers, will mark this anniversary with a protest in front of the Ministry of Labour.
 
This struggle began when workers put down tools after management refused to negotiate increased wages and improved working conditions in the year 2009.
 
On the third day of industrial action, the company issued dismissal letters to 57 workers, who today still remain off the job, the consequence of the Ministry of Labour’s refusal to enforce the relevant labour laws to ensure justice is served.
 
As of this day, those 57 workers have been denied income of approximately 65.5 million dollars and counting for every day they are away from their jobs.
 
This economic marginalization not only impacts the workers but also their families, children and the communities within which they live.
 
Working conditions for workers continue to deteriorate at BCGI and yet a government, who is constitutionally bound to serve and protect all the citizens, continues to ignore and even support the injustices and inequalities inflicted on the workers by a foreign management.
 
The company’s reaction to the workers’ legitimate action to refuse to work under unsafe conditions as per the Occupational Safety and Health Law (1997) Section 56 (1) saw the suspension of workers and subsequent legal action against the union and union leaders in contravention of Section 58 (1).
 
In June 2010, there was an industrial accident on the mining road where several were seriously injured and one, Remington “Tuts” Wade, died.
 
This accident was the result of workers commuting to work in a company provided vehicle not suitable for the rugged terrain.
 
Last week, five workers were dismissed for exposing the unhealthy kitchen environment infested with cockroaches and other unsanitary conditions and having to suffer further indignity and exposure to illness when they were served expired foods.
 
At the union’s persistency and with support locally and internationally, on October 7 a meeting was called by Chief Labour Officer, Yoganand Persaud, with the GB&GWU and BCGI.
 
When the union and company turned up for the meeting the CLO was absent from his own meeting, effectively stalling the effort to seek a resolution.

 

Ethnic Relations Commission ignores workers’ calls for justice and equality

 
Several correspondences were written to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) starting on January 4 and a presentation was made on January 8, seeking a public enquiry into this matter since the union, based on a preponderance of evidence, holds the view that the discrimination meted out to bauxite workers is based on race and political geography.
 
With the exception of the ERC telling tall tales to the media and the union having honoured the body’s request verifying that Mr. Carlton Sinclair is authorized to submit a compliant on its behalf, the ERC has done nothing, continuing to ignore the well being of bauxite workers even as they spend the workers’ tax dollars to attend to other matters.
 
The ERC, as a constituted body established to ensure ethnic harmony, tolerance and respect among the various ethnic groups, continues to fail the society and in effect contributes to the escalation of the problem through its biases and inactions.
 
It’s apparent that this is a political agenda driven to serve the political bosses and not the disadvantaged or dispossessed.

 

Social and economic disparity in sugar and bauxite

 
Historically, sugar and bauxite have been treated as the traditional productive sector and have received similar treatment under previous governments.
 
The GB&GWU, though not begrudging their counterparts in the sugar industry, takes note that the government acts with haste and leaves no stone unturned to address their concerns and engage their unions, GAWU and NAACIE.
 
The rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association, engage in industrial action and respect for due process in the event of suspension/dismissal are respected in sugar and not for workers at BCGI.
 
There was a time when bauxite workers received tax free overtime on hours worked in excess of eight hour per day, and on Saturday and Sunday; a benefit the bauxite workers struggled for and won, which was given to sugar under the PNC administration and taken away from bauxite workers under the PPP administration even as it continues to be enjoyed by sugar workers.   

 

Conclusion  

 
GB&GWU strongly holds the view that the government refusal to enforce the labour laws to bring a resolution to this matter is driven by race and political geography since it is aware of all the problems stated above.
 
The Minister of Labour is himself on public record for acknowledging the government recognition of the GB&GWU as the bargaining agent for the workers at BCGI, yet his ministry refuses to act to settle the dispute, ensure that dismissed workers return to work so they can participate in the country’s development and provide for themselves and families, ensure that BCGI respects the country’s Occupational Safety and Health Act so that workers can work in a healthy and safe environment.
 
To date, the only thing that the union has gotten from the minister is an acknowledgment of recognition even as he writes letters to the unions abroad, who expressed solidarity with the GB&GWU, denying his ministry is violating the rights of workers.
 
These attacks on the economic well-being of bauxite workers started in November 1992 when Prime Minister Sam Hinds summoned a meeting with the leaders of the GB&GWU to forewarn of the government’s planned reduction in bauxite production, a position the union fought against.
Since then, the economic marginalization has intensified through retrenchment, disbandment of the bauxite workers’ pension plan worth in excess of 2.5 billion dollars, refusal to entertain the proposal for an economic venture for BERMINE even as the Everton mine laid idle and expensive equipment rotted; and refusal to allow retooling in the industry even as the same was being done for sugar on a grander scale when sugar prices were falling on the world market. Bauxite never had a marketing problem.
 
These indicators are evidence of a deliberate attack on a people to destroy their lives through economic strangulation that have compelled General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis, to name the frontal assault “economic genocide.”
 
GB&GWSU is cognizant of the fact that it has a hard road to travel and a rough way to go but remains committed to ensuring justice is served for every last worker.
 
Our resolve is sealed!
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