The government is discriminating against some workers

Dear Editor,

By now not even the PPP’s supporters and officials can deny the government is practising discrimination against some workers. Observation is made of the six months’ old dispute in the bauxite industry with the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI) and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and the evident unwillingness by the Ministry of Labour to intervene to settle it.  Within the six months of the BCGI/GB&GWU dispute, workers of GuySuCo and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) have had disputes and in each instance the government has been quick to intervene.

In October 2009 wage talks between GAWU and GuySuCo deadlocked and on November 9, 2009 the Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir imposed arbitration. In December the arbitration tribunal recommended a retroactive 3 per cent increase for 2009 to be paid by March 2010. GAWU objected to this deadline saying workers must be paid before Christmas and proceeded to take industrial action to press its case. The ministry intervened again and caused GuySuCo to indicate that payment would be made before Christmas. On the Annual Production Incentive (API) bonus GAWU demanded nine days pay and the corporation countered with four days. On January 21, 2010 the ministry declared the conciliatory talks deadlocked. The API talks continued between GAWU and GuySuCo, which is state-owned, and on February 15, agreement was reached to pay six days. Via letter dated March 23, 2010 GAWU demanded that GuySuCo pay severance to 400 employees of Diamond Estate. After much back and forth between the union and corporation, the Ministry of Labour intervened and will begin conciliatory talks with GAWU and GuySuCo on Thursday, April 29.

The comparison between sugar and bauxite needs to be made not only because of the perceived political allegiance of their workers but also because these workers are from the organised traditional productive sector and have historically been treated equally under previous governments.

The GB&GWU has made its case about their struggle and victory for tax-free overtime under the PNC administration that was given to the sugar workers, then taken away from them by the PPP government in as much as it is still given to sugar. The union had also spoken about it and BCGI wrote President Jagdeo asking for the reinstatement of the tax-free overtime in lieu of a pay increase. There has been no response, while Minister Nadir refuses to intervene in as much as BCGI walked away from talks at his ministry and refuses to engage the union, something which is in violation of the law.

According to Minister Nadir, in 2009, there were 230 strikes, 130,345 lost man days and over $225.3 million in lost wages.   Of the 230 strikes, 226 were initiated by GAWU which is the main representative of sugar workers. He noted that this was in keeping with the recent trend where the sugar workers were the employees who engaged in industrial action most frequently. (—nadir.html). By reasonable deduction the sugar industry has had the greatest negative impact on the economy. On the other hand for the same period GB&GWU had two strikes.

The government is now trying to secure the jobs of some 400 sugar workers by refusing to bow to GAWU’s demands for severance pay which would put these workers on the breadline.

From the standpoint of the law in relation to severance pay and the need to preserve jobs, the government’s action makes sense. On the other hand almost 60 bauxite workers were illegally forced out of a job by BCGI, a company that the government is part owner of, and nothing is being done to enforce the law, save their jobs, and return normalcy to BCGI.

Editor, it’s time to call a spade a spade. This is an onslaught against bauxite workers. Veteran trade unionist, Lincoln Lewis, has written extensively on this matter, citing numerous cases, and drawing attention to the fact that it started since November 1992. The evidence and statistics are there to prove it. When will enough be enough?

Yours faithfully,
M A Bacchus

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