The Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and Rusal’s local subsidiary, the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI) have been at loggerheads since May 2009 after the company suspended 67 workers who protested unsafe working conditions and later that year, in December, fired 57 workers, who were involved in a strike for increased wages and improved working conditions. In November 2010, the company fired five employees in the fallout over a protest at the insanitary state of the kitchen and the poor quality of meals being prepared at the Aroaima work site.
The union, other parts of the local and international labour movement, political parties and civil society groups have criticised the government for not taking sterner action against the BCGI and for letting the industrial dispute drag on.
In a statement yesterday, the union welcomed the imposition of arbitration- a course of action it has called for since last year. “The decision of the minister has to be seen as testimony of the workers resilience that anything worth having is worth fighting for. This new development coming after a valiant two and a half year struggle is benefit derived by the workers militancy and fight for their right to Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining as enshrined in the ILO Conventions and the Laws of Guyana. These were and will remain the instruments guiding the struggle,” the union said in a statement.
The statement said that both the union and company were informed of the Minister’s decision via letter dated February 29, 2012. According to the statement, the terms of reference for arbitration are:
“‘To enquire into the difference between the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI-RUSAL) specifically to determine whether the company and or the union has indulged in prudent industrial/labour relations practices and whether or not they have complied with all known labour and industrial relations laws and conventions as they relate to:
1. The wages dispute between the Company and the Union with respect to the period January 1. 2009 to December 31, 2010 which resulted from the application of Term # 7 of the terms of Resumption signed between the Company and the Union on August 25, 2009.
2. The dispute which led to the suspension of 67 workers who protested unsafe working conditions at the Company’s operation during the period May 2009.
3. The dispute between the Company and the Union with respect to the dismissal of 57 employees from the Company during the period December 1-10, 2009.
4. The dispute between the Company and the Union with respect to the dismissal of five employees namely; Winsworth Blair, Elmiton Mc Almont, Laurel George, Marcel Odonoghu and Lennox Daw, who were in protest over conditions of storage of food material in areas allegedly infested with rodents and roaches, and the use of the said food materials in the kitchen to prepare meals for staff at the Aroaima Location.
5. The alleged threatening of workers by the General Manager of BCGI, Mr. Ruslan Volokhov on May 8, 2011 who were protesting the non-availability of potable water at the camp site in Aroaima.”
In its statement, the union acknowledged that the struggle is far from over. “The Minister’s decision begins another phase and the GB&GWU awaits the announcement of the Arbitrator(s) and modalities being put in place to begin the process. GB&GWU will push for this to be achieved soonest since justice delayed is justice denied,” the union said. After Gopaul, a former union leader, was appointed Labour Minister last December, the union had written to him, urging his intervention in the dispute. It had previously criticized then Labour Minister, Manzoor Nadir for his “refusal to enforce the laws.”
“Though the battle has been long, grueling and still more distance to cover, the union remains confident bauxite workers shall overcome. For there shall be no relenting or retreating until the named matters are resolved, the country’s laws upheld, and the rights of every worker respected,” the union said yesterday.
It expressed appreciation for the part persons played and continues to play for justice and fair play. “This was not only a struggle for bauxite workers; it was a struggle for Guyana and every Guyanese because BCGI/RUSAL behaviours threaten our laws, the citizens’ rights, and the nation’s sovereignty,” the statement said.