The Ministry of Labour is not an enforcer of laws but a mediator except in critical cases, according to Labour minister Dr. Dr Nanda Gopaul who described the ongoing issue between RUSAL and its fired workers as a “delicate one” and saying that there is not much that his ministry can do.
The ministry is continuing to speak with the company in an effort to deal with the issue, the minister said during his contribution to the 2013 Budget debate on Thursday. Earlier, APNU parliamentarian Basil Williams had expressed disappointed that actions were not taken over the last year to deal with the RUSAL matter.
The issue dates back to 2008, Gopaul said. “It is not a simple matter…” he said while adding that his ministry is not an enforcer but a mediator and it only enforces the law when the “violation is critical and is in breach of certain laws.”
“RUSAL is not like the essential service at GPL and I was terrible disappointed when Mr. Williams…made that evaluation to say that we intervened promptly within a week at GPL but we were unable to do so with RUSAL,” Gopaul stated. He explained that GPL falls under the Essential Services Act and as a consequence the ministry acted within those confines. He denied any influence by NAACIE-the union representing the GPL workers. NAACIE is headed by Kenneth Joseph and is part of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), a breakaway group from the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) that is aligned to the ruling PPP/C.
“RUSAL is at a complicated state, a very delicate state,” Dr. Gopaul stated recalling that the issue developed as a result of a strike which saw workers being dismissed and the company terminating the agreement with the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) the union representing the workers as they felt the agreement was breached by the strike.
However, the minister admitted that the dismissals of the workers should have been dealt with differently and added that the union representing the workers should have moved to the courts instantly to seek redress. “It is not for the Ministry of Labour to intervene on that matter, it should have been the instance of the union,” the minister said.
The minister said he tried to intervene and the employers challenged the intervention and while the ministry sought to impose arbitration, the union intervened but later withdrew from the intervention. He said had the case not been withdrawn, he would have found grounds to argue but the company has now taken a tough position and expressed disappointment at the ministry’s intervention since an agreement does not exist between them and the union.
“We believe that we can find some solution to this dispute but it has to be through dialogue, it cannot be through any other means…we are talking…” he said adding that they also do not want companies to close their doors as a result of intervention.
Turning to the Marriott Hotel and the severe criticisms the administration faced due to the fact that only Chinese nationals are employed in the building of the hotel, the minister said that some of the concerns raised have been “justifiable.”
“We have investigated this matter… [and] far from what is portrayed that there are only Chinese labour there, there might be only Chinese labour on the plant…but we have examined what is taking place there and we were told and we are satisfied that this has occurred that there are 82 workers being employed by a private company directly every day and they are supplying to the extent of 60,000 blocks per month, they have been supplying 5,000 to 1,000 cubic yard of mix concrete per week,” the minister said.
He also added that there have also been local suppliers of sand and a local contractor is supplying security. “So indirectly we have had a tremendous local input but we do agree with the sentiments expressed with respect to making sure that there exist in contracts [provisions] to protect Guyanese workers, and we understand the complaints which have been made and the concerns which have been raised that Guyanese workers are prioritized in these contracts,” the minister said. He noted that Prime Minister Samuel Hinds is in discussion with the labour movement and they have come up with a formula which would see an end to any doubt where contracts are being executed that Guyanese workers would be prioritised in these areas.
Meanwhile, Dr Gopaul described the 2013 budget as the most “complete budget ever presented in this House for a long time.”
“Mr. Speaker, if you were to traverse this country you will witness real development and progress in the areas of infrastructure, health facilities, water, education, social services and housing. Our people live better and they live healthier,” Dr Gopaul declared as his colleagues thumped their tables.
Speaking on his ministry’s activities in 2012, Gopaul said that the ministry conducted 25 conciliation meetings between parties with disputes and received 1,163 complaints from workers at various entities. As a result of the complaints the ministry retrieved in excess of $32M for workers who had their complaints investigated. Over a thousand inspections were also done at work places and as a result 34 employers were prosecuted for various violations.
Almost 3000 persons were placed at jobs through the Central Manpower & Recruitment Agency in responce to request by employers for 3,800 workers during the last year. He said that at the commencement of the year there have been more requests from employers but the agency has been unable to attract persons to fill the vacancies.