BCGI must understand that the employer’s interest cannot be at the expense of the workers’ rights

Dear Editor,

The Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI) has taken the Minister of Labour to court for exercising his power under the Labour Law, Chapter 98:01 and imposing arbitration between the company and the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU), the workers’ representative. Though I strongly believe this is a waste of the Court’s time and will await its ruling, attention is paid to the reasons given by the Human Resources Officer, Elena Gorshkova, via a press release, for the company’s actions. Ms. Gorshkova is either being badly advised, thinks the company is above the Laws of Guyana, or being disingenuous, and it becomes important to set the record straight.

The company’s refusal to negotiate with the union came to a head in November 2009, reaching a national crisis when at a 2nd December, 2009 conciliation meeting chaired by then Chief Labour Officer, Yoganand Persaud, BCGI delivered a letter dated 1st December, 2009 to the Union, Chief Labour Officer, and then Minister of Labour Mr. Manzoor Nadir, stating: “We wish to advise that Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. hereby deems the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) entered into between the Company, the Guyana Bauxite and Workers’ Union, and the Ministry of Labour dated the 4th April, 2008, as terminated with immediate effect…and the company will move to derecognize the Union.”

This is an out of order position taken by the company since it does not have the scope or authority to determine who the workers chose as their representative. As clearly stated in Article 147 (1) of the Guyana Constitution, “Except with his or her consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of assembly, association and freedom to demonstrate peacefully, this is to say, his or her right to assemble freely, to demonstrate peacefully and to associate with persons and in particular to form or belong to…trade unions…for the protection of his or her interests.”

This right and freedom is reinforced in the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Act Chapter 98:07, Section 23 (1) ‘Compulsory recognition and duty to treat’ which states:

“When a trade union obtains a certificate of recognition for workers   comprised in a bargaining unit in accordance with this Part, the employer shall recognise the union, and the union and the employer shall bargain in good faith and enter into negotiations with each other for the purpose of collective bargaining.”

The 67 workers who on 22nd May 2009 refused to operate dump trucks did so because the air conditioning units were not working which is consistent with their right and freedom. According to the Guyana Constitution Article 147 (2), “except with his or her own consent no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom to strike.” If our supreme law says we can strike then this is a right and freedom no one can or must think they can take away from us.

Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1997) Section 56 (1) ‘Refusal to work’, expressly states, “ A worker may refuse to work or do particular work where he has reasonable justification to believe that : (a) any equipment, machine, device or article the worker is to use or operate presents an imminent and serious danger to the life or health of himself, or another worker; or  (b) the physical condition of the workplace or the part thereof in which he works or is to work presents an imminent and serious danger to his life or health.”

The above stated articles and section also apply to the 8th November, 2010 action by workers who expressed their grievances for having to eat meals that were prepared with expired rations and in a rat and rodent infested kitchen. The company itself confirmed the workers’ grievances. Workers of Guyana are not hogs who can be fed anything. Even farmers who value their hogs’ worth would not mistreat them.

The company also ignores Article 46 (2) of the Collective Labour Agreement signed between itself and the GB&GWU, which clearly states, “in the event of a strike, lockout or any form of work stoppage the parties shall meet urgently and expeditiously to bring the situation back to normalcy.”

Instead it has been arbitrarily suspending and dismissing workers, and operating above the Collective Labour Agreement, Labour Laws and Guyana Constitution.

BCGI is incorrect in its claim that “with regards to a wages dispute from 1st January 2009 to 31st December 2009, [a] settlement was reached on 13th November 2009 but by 20th November 2009 GBGWU reneged on the deal that included retrenchment.”  No settlement was reached because no agreement was signed as would be the case since the Union and company have a formal relationship and matters of this nature always follow such protocol.

The 8th May, 2011 incident with the spade wielding General Manager Ruslan Volokhov who came out to the vehicle occupied by workers on their way to the site after being denied water for more than 10 hours to bathe and prepare their meals is another case. Rather than address their grievances, with the spade in his hand he threatened to bash workers’ heads and faces and bury them.  The Human Resources Manager said probes were carried out by senior officials who flew in from Russia and the Ministry of Labour who all cleared Volokhov of the allegations. The company itself in a 14th May, 2011 Kaieteur News’ story admitted, “The manager behaved badly and disrespectfully. He was wrong. [T] he workers acted with restraint and with maturity and did not resort to strike actions over the matter.” The ministry never “cleared Volokhov of the allegations” but did begin an investigation.

As BCGI seeks excuses for violating our laws and trampling workers under the notion that their “activities [are] inimical to [the] employer’s interests” they ignore the fact that the employer’s interest cannot be at the expense of the workers’ rights, freedoms, health and safety, the CLA, Labour Laws and the Guyana Constitution. The company is advised that Guyana is a nation governed by its own laws, premised on the universal declaration of human rights and international conventions, and it cannot come here, disobey our laws and trample on the citizens and think there will be silence and complicity in the face of these violations. This is not what true Guyanese are made of.

As a people we will not allow our freedoms and rights fought for over
hundreds of years, through bitter struggles, blood, sweat and tears to now be taken away. Justice is ours and justice must prevail!

Yours faithfully,
Carlton Sinclair,
GB&GWUKwakwani/ Aroaima Branch

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