The Guyana Women’s Miners Association (GWMA) is advocating that women insist on something in writing before proceeding to work in the interior as too many of them are robbed by unscrupulous employers and most times they are unable to seek redress through the Ministry of Labour.
“I am saying to them [women], to protect themselves and to make it easier for the Ministry of Labour to act is to get a contract, something in black white so you can keep because when they deny you work with them there is not much the Ministry of Labour could do,” head of the organisation Simona Broomes told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.
Addressing a large number of women who turned up for a meeting at the Sea Breeze Hotel as the association plans for its first anniversary celebration later this month, Broomes told her members that none of the women who approached the association because of non-payment and who were sent to Labour have not received their money.
She later told the Sunday Stabroek that in many cases employers deny that the women work with them or argue that the women may not have worked with them for the length of time they claim or dispute the figure the women were expecting to be paid.
She went on to say that the association has seen nine cases of women who were not paid, all of whom were referred to the Ministry of Labour but none of whom had received their money. She said Labour can obtain the necessary information about an employer from the Guyana Geology & Mines Commission (GGMC) and contact should be made with the employer in an effort to get them to pay.
She related to her members the recent case of a woman who was forced to leave employment because she became very sick, ending up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. It was on Old Year’s Day that she approached her former employer for payment and instead of giving the woman some money he chased her away and told her she had no money to get and was not to return.
Broomes said cases like those remain with her, and when the women do not get assistance from Labour she is forced to get personally involved.
One case in which she became personally involved was that of Vanessa Stephens, who was removed from the mining camp by police after her employer accused her of stealing early last year.
Stephens, who is now a member of the GWMA and attended last week’s meeting, told the Sunday Stabroek that she worked with a woman for three months as a cook and also helped out in the shop. She said after some time the woman left the camp for two weeks and headed to the city. On her return she claimed that she had lost a number of items and called in the police to remove Stephens from the camp. The woman said the police searched her and found nothing, in addition to which she had no money, and when the police asked her employer to give her some money she responded that she had none, so Stephens was forced to find her own way out of the backdam.
Stephens said she visited the office of the GGMC and later contacted Broomes, and it was she who contacted the woman. Two weeks later she got most of her money for which she is grateful. The woman said when she visited the Ministry of Labour she was asked a number of questions, including whether she was making payments to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), but after she left the office she was never contacted by any official.
“I think the organisation is really helping women right now,” she said, adding that she would continue to work in the interior because she is trying to build her home and she can make more money there.
Broomes told her members that they now have each other and they must work together to make their working environment better.
Meantime, Broomes once again bemoaned the fact that the relevant authorities – more especially the Ministry of Human Services & Social Security – are resisting partnering with the organisation to combat the ills of the interior, including trafficking in persons and child labour. She said the organisation wants to work with the relevant stakeholders, and it was sad “to see them dragging their feet and turning a blind eye to situations, and we are not coming together by action to battle the issues.”
The GWMA President pointed out that the Human Service Minister has funding to organize trips and go into areas to make interventions, and she is of the opinion when this is being done they should collaborate with the GWMA as many of the latter’s members know the interior better than the ministry officials.
“But we are not involved,” she said, adding that she was part of the ministry’s Trafficking in Persons workshop held late last year and she had met one of the junior officials who had promised to build a relationship with the organisation. According to Broomes, however, he does not have much authority, and they need to go beyond that as they want to work in the mining sector with the ministry’s support.
She once again raised the case of the little boy whom she found working in a mining pit in the Puruni area late last year, revealing the child’s mother has since moved from the area with him, but there had been no intervention by the state and as far as she knows the woman may just have relocated to anther backdam and the child would continue to work under hazardous conditions and not attend school.
“What we need to see is prosecution,” Broomes said, while calling for organizations including the police to come together and go into various areas, visit the backdams and shops and conduct raids.
And she hopes that for the new year the GGMC will move to have shops located only at landing areas, “rather than just have people throw up shops anywhere and then have little girls working for them [because]… the further they have these shops in the back dam is the more they would push the little girls.” Restricting them to the landings would make it easier for them to be monitored.
She said the association is frustrated that they are unable to visit all the areas from where they receive calls about problems, and she hopes that the authorities with the resources would this year work with them to help those in need.
And sometimes it is not just the lack of finances that prevents them from responding, but also the need for the police to accompany them because they cannot arrest anyone. She said the little man is not getting the authorities to act, but in the case of bigger companies with money the officials are at their beck and call.
A Port Kaituma resident, Stephanie Miguel, who is a member of the association, told the women that she joined the GWMA because of the many social ills in her community, and she hopes together they can work for improvement in all interior locations. She listed issues such as teenage pregnancy, child molestation and labour exploitation as some of the problems plaguing her community.
She mentioned the case of a 12-year-old being impregnated by a well-known businessman and nothing coming out of the case, and a stepfather who allegedly abused a little boy and is “free on the road.” The child, she said, was removed from the home by state officials and is now a ward of the state.
The woman also said that there are many Amerindian men who are not paid after working, and sometimes have nowhere to seek redress. The mother of six believes that together the women in the organisation can make a difference. She said when she was a miner she had lost her claim because she had no money, and that if the organisation had been in existence she may have been able to get help.
“So I see this organisation now as a stronghold, so that is the reason why I leave my business just to come here and meet with the women and know what it is all about,” she said.