Two years after working at Bai Shan Lin as a grader, Roxanne Jossiah found herself literally cutting grass.
Jossiah, of Silver City, Wismar, started working at the company’s processing plant at Coomacka as a grader, responsible for inspecting logs for imperfections and signs of rot or other decay, on April 26th 2007 but was relegated to cutting grass after her employers told her there was no wood for her to grade.
She said she and others who were also put in her position were allocated a patch of grass to cut every day.
“When ah tell yuh grass? Share grass in yuh face high, high, high… yuh cutting grass from morning till yuh knock off at 4:30pm. By the time yuh done cut grass in one area and yuh move and come around the grass come back high, high, high again!” the woman related.
Jossiah also said that she and others like her were given even more demeaning tasks. She said that dogs would get into the plant overnight and would sleep and defecate. She and her workmates, the woman explained, were told that it was their responsibility to clean the dog feces every morning. She also said that while cutting grass she and her workmates usually encountered urine-filled beer bottles by the dozens and were required to heap them up and get rid of them.
Though disgruntled, Jossiah says she kept the job for two years before it became too much to bear. “I go and tell (the boss) me ain’t cutting no more grass. I was not employed as a grass cutter,” she said.
When she told her employer that she was done cutting grass, Jossiah said she was again told that there was no more grading work for her to do and that her options were to continue cutting grass or stay at home and receive $500 in her account every day. She chose the latter. Jossiah said she was one of the first to leave as some of the other women were less willing to relinquish the job. She, however, said that several other women left a few months after she did.
Last week, Region 10 regional Democratic Council (RDC) Chairman Sharma Solomon told reporters that Bai Shan Lin was paying some of its employees as little as $500 a day—an amount which represents a fraction of what they earned when the sawmill was functional. It is important to note that persons receiving this amount are not actively working for the company, but are home receiving the amounts daily as they were told there is no work for them to do at the sawmill.
Bai Shan Lin refuted Solomon’s claim in one of a flurry of statements last week. The company said its employees’ salaries are performance-based. It further stated that interior staff are paid more than $60,000 monthly, while the minimum salary for several categories of workers, including Managers and Supervisors is also higher than $60,000.
But Jossiah said that eventually all of the employees at the wood processing plant were put on the same arrangement that she had agreed to. “Them send the workers home piece by piece until no more workers,” she lamented. In addition to the daily $500, Jossiah said that she and the others would receive leave passage and a bonus of $10,000 every December. Last December though, she said the bonus was paid late and the “leave money was paid in parts, but only after she “made noise.”
“Just imagine, the lil bit of stifling they giving yuh…ah can’t call it stipend I have to call it stifling ’cause that’s what it doing to yuh,” she said.
After Jossiah left, she went about looking for a new job but required a job letter to do so. She said that when she called Bai Shan Lin’s office in Georgetown she was told that her name was not in the company’s system. Jossiah said she travelled down to Georgetown the day after she was told this and noticed that most, if not all, of the employees in the Georgetown office were new. She said that she insisted that she was an employee and said that she was finally able to get a job letter after waiting eight hours.
After her experience, the woman advised her friends to query their employment with the company lest they suffer the same fate.
Another employee, who asked not to be named, said when she started out at the Coomacka operation as a labourer in 2007, she was paid $12,000 daily. With good performance, she said, she was promoted to a stores clerk and was being paid $14,000 a day until Bai Shan Lin started to scale back operations at the processing facility.
Scaling down of staff at the facility started in 2009 or 2010, she said, and continued throughout the years. She said that the processing facility had a workforce of around 80 when it opened, and that this number dwindled to 15 as Bai Shan Lin continued to scale back operations and send home its employees.
Eventually, she said, the last 15 workers were sent home and the processing plant closed. “Bai Shan Lin came under a contract. They were supposed to open the sawmill, work it, create jobs for Guyanese and then you can export. They did that but after a while I don’t know what
happened,” the woman shared.
“They really treat us rough,” Jossiah exclaimed as she recalled her experiences. She said that she and her colleagues exhausted themselves complaining to several agencies, including the Ministry of Labour. The representative at the ministry, however, failed to ever intervene in their best interest. Jossiah said one of her managers at the processing plant told them, “Guyanese and the police, when yuh pay them money yuh ain’t have no problem.”
“And they always have money, so they not afraid of anything,” Jossiah added.
Solomon has accused the company of betraying the very people through which it was able to acquire additional concessions in Region 10. In an earlier interview, he told Stabroek News that the concessions were granted on the understanding that a significant number of residents from the community would be availed jobs. He said that during a meeting at Coomacka, the Linden Economic Advancement Programme, the Region 10 Programme for Forest Management, as well as other groups in collaboration with residents agreed that the company should receive additional concessions, provided that residents of Coomacka gained significant employment opportunities.
“What is the agreement between government and the company? This will allow us to determine if we are getting the benefits that we are supposed to be getting in exchange for the extraction of our natural, non-renewable resources,” said Solomon.