That the bauxite dispute has dragged on for more than eight months should have been enough for the ERC to investigate

Dear Editor,

Reference is made to the Ethnic Relations Commission’s (ERC) letter signed by Yolanda Ward, titled `It is the GB&GWU which has stalled progress on its complaint to the ERC’ (SN, July 15). The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) wishes to remind the ERC that it has a mandate for all the people of Guyana, including the bauxite workers and their communities.

And no amount of prevarication and childish play will prevent the Union from holding it accountable. Further, the ERC has a constitutional role and its functioning, including the payment of its commissioners and staff, is made possible on the sweat of the taxpayers, who again include bauxite workers and their communities. As such the ERC is reminded that it has a moral and legal responsibility to act.

It is the GB&GWU that filed a complaint and as such it is the aggrieved party. On January 4, 2010 the Union told the ERC that it “brings with urgency to your attention for immediate redress the case of the predominantly African bauxite workers of Aroaima and Kwakwani employed at the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc. (BCGI) a company owned by United Company RUSAL and the Government of Guyana where race, ethnicity and political affiliations appear to be at the centre of decision making affecting operations of the union, workers, their families and the communities of  Linden, Aroaima and Kwakwani for which bauxite is the main economic pillar of support [and] demand an urgent attention and a public enquiry conducted by the Ethnic Relations Commission in keeping with its impartial mandate of ensuring a fair and just society.”

At our preliminary presentation to the ERC on January 8 it was made known that this matter is not only confined to BCGI but also includes discrimination against the wider bauxite workers and their communities dating back to November 1992.

There is a fundamental principle that says ‘s/he who asserts must be given an opportunity to prove her/his case.’ In this instance it is the GB&GWU who has asserted and for six months has awaited the opportunity to so prove. With the ERC armed with these requests and to now pronounce that it will “decide if there is merit for a public inquiry” is disconcerting. As a matter of import the ERC needs to immediately advise what constitutes “merit for a public inquiry.”  The ERC would understand and appreciate that a hodge-podge approach to this grave matter is not good enough and is deserving of an explanation from the Commission which by its very mandate has a responsibility “to serve all Guyanese and persons living or working in Guyana, including, persons who believe they were discriminated against based on their ethnicity.”

Six months after and no word from the Commission is tantamount to “justice delayed is justice denied.”

On the matter of BCGI, the ERC having admitted its efforts to engage Labour Minister Manzoor Nadir; Chief Labour Officer, Mr. Yoganand Persaud; Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon; and General Manager, Mr. Sergey Kostyuk, should be concerned that the situation remains unchanged and start working.

The fact that eight months and counting the dispute remains unresolved is more than enough to activate the promptness to conduct the public inquiry. The ERC is also equally aware of the several efforts, both locally and internationally, to get the Minister of Labour and the Chief Labour Officer to act consistent with the labour laws and the power vested in them, which to date they both refuse to so do. It is therefore now disconcerting to hear this impalpable excuse that “the union was to make available persons who were witnesses or persons who would have been fired and were affected by the actions of the BCGI to ERC investigators to give statements.”

On January 13 via a hand delivered and emailed letter to the ERC it was advised that “we will agree to participate and provide all information to support our charges in an open public inquiry” even as your attention was drawn to the fact that “there exist no known modality between the Union and the ERC on the way forward.”

With overwhelming evidence pointing to the inactions of the Ministry of Labour coupled with the June 30 fatal industrial accident involving our members, and an unresolved dispute with the Ministry (since May 2009) with regards to occupational safety and health issues, the ERC needs no further prompting as it becomes increasingly clear every day that bauxite workers are not only facing loss of income and the violation of their rights but are also losing out as a result of their race and perceived political allegiance and geography. The BCGI’s dispute is the longest running in Guyana’s history.

The ERC is asked, where is the fierce sense of urgency that usually inspires persons to act in matters of this nature; how long more must the endangerment of bauxite workers continue as you sit it out by making excuses, when you are vested with the power by the people and paid by them to act on their behalf and bring an end to injustices? How much more time do you require before you recognize that the union’s complaint is as equal as others and therefore deserving of the same urgency and attention.

Yours faithfully,
Carlton Sinclair
President Aroaima/Kwakwani
Branch GB&GWU

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