TUC challenges Russian envoy over Rusal labour violations

A foray into domestic politics here by the Russian Ambassador yesterday earned a rebuke by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) which seized the opportunity to pepper the envoy over the track record of a prime Russian investor here.

In yesterday’s edition of Stabroek News, Russian Federation Ambassador, Nikolay Smirnov released a letter he had written to Opposition Leader David Granger noting concerns expressed locally over the need for the anti-money laundering bill and expressing the hope that the opposition would act in favour of the bill.

In its statement, the TUC noted that both Guyana and Russia are members of the United Nations and the International Labour Organisation and both have ratified the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Labour Organisation Conventions Nos. 87 and 98. The TUC noted that these instruments enshrined the Right to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining. Further, these universal principles are enshrined in the Guyana Constitution at Article 147 (1) and (3) and reinforced in Article 23 of the Trades Union Recognition and Certification Act (1997).

The GTUC said it wished to remind the ambassador that these universal tenets have been under severe attacks by his countrymen with the support of the Government of Guyana. The vexing matter of treatment meted out to Guyanese workers in the employ of the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), a company owned by RUSAL (majority) and the People of Guyana (minority) must again be brought to Smirnov’s attention, the TUC said.

“As his country’s representative it carries a concomitant duty to respect host country’s laws. And given Guyanese are assured of a friendship and a direct appeal to the Leader of the Opposition, the GTUC calls on His Excellency to uphold a principal diplomatic function by seeing to it (that) BCGI respects the Laws of Guyana and rights of all members of its Guyanese workforce.

The GTUC similarly calls on the Leader of the Opposition, in his expected response to Russia’s outreach to make known Guyanese desire to have their sovereignty respected as enshrined in our laws and the correspondent obligations of Russia to so do.  GTUC recalls the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) in 2010 wrote the Russian Ambassador bringing to his attention the BCGI transgressions. The union’s correspondence was not even accorded an acknowledgment. Friends don’t knowingly disrespect each other. But it is hoped with such being brought to His Excellency’s attention efforts will be made to avoid this going forward”, the TUC said.

The TUC also reminded the Leader of the Opposition that his constitutional role entrusts him the responsibility to ensure the rights of every citizen are respected.

“In fact, the GTUC is calling for the BCGI matter to be a factor in proceeding with negotiations to pass the Bill. On this approach the GTUC is replicating the strategy of Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Mr. Forbes Burnham on the matter of recognition for sugar workers desiring association with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) contingent on the opposition support for passage of a bill.

“The GB&GWU/BCGI matter must now be added to proposals made to President Ramotar in assenting to outstanding bills and appointing the Public Procurement Commission for support passage for the Anti-money Laundering Bill. The GTUC will be following this development closely and is prepared to provide support in realising respect for the Rights of Guyanese and the sovereignty of this nation, including the right to freedom of assembly at the Leader of the Opposition’s office and wherever the struggle may dictate our actions, in order to ensure good governance. The GB&GWU has been waging a battle since December 2009 when the BGCI arbitrarily decided it has derecognised the union as the bargaining agent for workers. This matter was taken to the court by BCGI on the pretext of the business’ name, after the Minister of Labour in March 2012 exercising his power under the Labour Laws imposed compulsory arbitration. The State’s attorneys committed to the Court to re-issue letters using BCGI’s correct name to activate the arbitration proceedings”, the TUC argued.

It said that from 2009 workers have suffered more than one industrial accident resulting in deaths and severe injuries. It charged that workers were fed expired food and their meals prepared in an insanitary kitchen where rats and roaches and their droppings roamed freely. It further charged that a Russian manager threatened to bash-in workers’ heads with a spade, an action that saw a “partisan and sloppy” inquiry and this person back on site continuing to manage via threats.

Further, 57 workers were sacked for exercising their fundamental right to strike as protected in Article 147 (2) of the Guyana Constitution. Five workers were terminated for protesting being fed expired, rat and roach invested food. This week, the TUC said,  67 workers were issued Warning Letters about taking doctor’s certified sick leave last year.

“This is the hostile, unhealthy and unsafe environment workers in Guyana, in the 21st century, have to function in, in as much as these practices are outlawed.

“It has been more than a year since the Government gave the Court the assurance to reissue letters to proceed with addressing these grievances. The government continues to refuse to act and the GTUC strongly believes this is the result of collusion with the Russians to violate our laws in order to trample the rights of a section of Guyana’s workforce. The Leader of the Opposition has a responsibility to deliver leadership to this society consistent with our laws and be ever more vigilant and militant when the Government is failing. The GTUC awaits and will pursuing actions”, the union body said.



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