By Chevy Devonish
The Ministry of Labour plans to hold seminars to address violations of labour laws by foreign nationals, particularly Brazilians, who have come to Guyana for employment or to pursue business ventures of their own.
The initiative is a joint venture between the ministry, the Guyana Brazil Development Institute and the Brazilian Mining and General Association (BMGA) and will see seminars organised in Georgetown, Bartica and several other areas where mining is prevalent.
Addressing an audience of Brazilian business owners, Chief Labor Officer Charles Ogle yesterday stated that there are usually a lot of complaints concerning the practices of business owners and their employees, as well as their treatment of workers.
He said that in many instances, Brazilians come to Guyana, set up their businesses and proceed to “do their own thing,” ignorant of what is legally required.
Ogle also voiced his conviction that in most cases where the law is broken, it is as a result of Brazilians not being aware of the labour laws, which he believes is partly due to the language barrier.
Antonio Szale, of the BMGA, stated that an overwhelming 80% of Brazilians who come to Guyana cannot speak or understand English, which leads them to sometimes unwittingly break the law, or puts them in a position where they are exploited due to their ignorance of the law.
Because it is important that everyone is aware of their rights, the ministry plans to hold various sessions to familiarize these individuals with the laws of Guyana. Although this particular venture is primarily aimed at the Brazilian community, Ogle stated that similar work will also be done with the Chinese community, since they too experience many of the same issues.
Commenting on the importance of the venture, Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul noted that many Brazilians have opted to pursue business ventures and employment in Guyana. “Due to this we have to ensure that all business is done within the confines of the law, and that the Brazilian investors will be confident that their investments will pay off,” he said, while adding that it is imperative that the individuals be able to operate their businesses free of discrimination.
Gopaul also stated that over the past 12 months there have been complaints from and about foreign entities breaching the law, but the ministry has been able to rectify the situation in every instance. He shared Ogle’s convictions that in many instances it seemed that laws were breached due to a lack of understanding of what the laws were, which, as Ogle also stated, resulted from the language barrier.
As a result, Gopaul disclosed that several key laws, particularly those dealing with areas that seem to be the most problematic relating to labour, have been fully translated into Portuguese for Brazilian employers and employees who do not know English. Among the laws translated are the Holiday with Pay Act, Minimum Wage Act, The Conditions for Employment Act and the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.
The minister also emphasized the importance of employers to observe all occupational health and safety regulations and also urged employees to become familiar with these.
Szale, however, stated that because some Brazilians experience problems with reading, the ministry is considering the creation of Compact Discs (CDs) containing translated audio versions of several pertinent laws and licenses relevant to business operations in Guyana.
Gopaul also used the meeting to address the issue of child labour and trafficking in persons, as there have been several reports of this occurring particularly in the hinterlands regions to facilitate business there. Gopaul said that surveys show that although child labour exists at a minimal level in the reported areas, it is still completely unacceptable. He stated that his ministry intends to take tough measures against all found guilty, and urged the Brazilian business community to desist from such practice.
He also branded trafficking in persons as a serious issue and signalled that his ministry also intends to pursue legislation for tougher prosecution of those found guilty.