Bauxite union, company to meet chief labour officer today

Chief Labour Officer Yoganand Persaud is today expected to meet the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and the RUSAL subsidiary BCGI, the first such engagement he has had with both parties for months.

According to a circular issued to workers by the GB&GWU, the purpose of this meeting is for the re-negotiation of the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) and the rules of engagement with the union, a circular issued by the GB&GWU to workers says.

Since March when the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TUR&CB) ruled against an application by some BCGI workers to have the GB&GWU derecognised as their bargaining unit, the ministry has only facilitated one meeting between the company and the union.

The ministry has been meeting with both the company and the union individually in recent times, this newspaper understands, particularly over allegations that the general manager at the company allegedly threatened workers while holding a spade.

The union has identified several issues that it still considers unresolved.  These include “the dismissal of 57 workers on trumped up charges between December 1 and 10, 2009”, “the death of Remington Wade and maiming of Otis Conway and injuries to others as a result of the industrial accident on 30 July at Aroaima/ Kwakwani Road”, the dismissal of five employees after they complained about the state of the kitchen at the Aroaima worksite, and threats allegedly made by the general manager to bash workers head.

Contacted yesterday, General Secretary of the GB&GWU Lincoln Lewis confirmed that both parties had been invited to a meeting.

“This is a battle to secure the respect of workers’ rights and the rule of law which are critical for our survival, peaceful co-existence and development,” he said. “Though the struggle is long and hard, the road rugged and rough, there shall be no relenting until justice prevails. Anything worth having is worth fighting for. What is a man if he cannot take a principled stand for what is just and right,” he asked.

On November 22, 2009, over 300 workers came together and staged strikes at the Kwakwani and Aroaima sites after the GB&GWU and the BCGI failed to reach a satisfactory agreement on wages.

The BCGI later began to distribute suspension letters to some of the employees, saying that they abandoned their workplace without reason. A few days later, the majority of the workers returned to work while 57 were dismissed. Representatives of the company have argued that during the wages negotiations with the company, the GB&GWU had agreed to one of three options presented and then reneged. This option was for a 10% retroactive pay hike and the retrenchment of 75 workers. Although, the union has denied this, documents have, however, shown that union had agreed to the option.

However, it has been argued that even if the union had agreed to workers being fired, this would have to follow a certain protocol, which would entail the last come, first go method; the most recent employees would be the first to be dismissed. The union has argued that the dismissal of the workers was done in a discriminatory manner.

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