Veteran trade unionist says producing bauxite trumps workers’ welfare

General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Lincoln Lewis has told the Stabroek Business that the impression which Natural Resources and the Environment Minister Robert Persaud appears to have gleaned from the management of the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc. (BCGI) about the relationship between itself and the company’s workers is “entirely at variance with the truth.”

Lewis said the government itself, as the minority shareholder in the company is largely responsible for “a generally unhealthy state of affairs” as far as worker /management relations are concerned.

Some weeks ago, in response to a question put to him by the Stabroek Business Persaud said that “according to management there is no tension within the company. Management considers BCGI workers as one of its main assets.” Persaud added that the company is doing its best “to preserve a favourable climate of social partnership when management is responsible for strategic development of business and good governance and workers are conscious of the fact that today’s stability of the company as well as its future competitiveness directly depend on good performance, industrial discipline and professionalism of each manager, supervisor or employee.”

Lincoln Lewis
Lincoln Lewis

In his response to the question on worker/management relations put to him by this newspaper Persaud had said that “the government, through the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment will always ensure the rights of workers and communities are respected.” However, Lewis told Stabroek Business that the government, a majority shareholder in BCGI is itself responsible for the transgression of the rights of workers by the Russian management of the company. “Let me make it very clear that since 2009 BGCI has refused to deal with the union on matters pertaining to workers’ welfare and the government has failed to intervene to cause the company to act in compliance with the laws of this country,” Lewis said.

He added that it should not be forgotten that the track record of the Rusal management includes physical confrontation with employees, verbal confrontations and safety practices which government officials themselves had deemed to be dangerous.

Lewis told Stabroek Business that in the matter of the recent electrical explosion at Aroaima two Fridays ago in which a company employee was badly burnt the union ought correctly to be a part of a transparent investigation. “That is not likely to be the case even though the Vice President of the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union is an employee of BCGI,” Lewis said.”

Robert Persaud
Robert Persaud

And according to Lewis “whatever semblance of normalcy may appear to be in place at BCGI’s operations at this time had to do with fear of reprisals by workers who are concerned that any protest against the conditions there could cost them their jobs.”

And the veteran trade unionist asserted that “whatever the Minister might say, it is the government that has to take the responsibility for what the Rusal managers have become. “They have tacitly endorsed the constant refusal of the Rusal management to recognize and work with the [Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union].”

In his statement Minister Persaud also said that since 2005 BCGI had been increasing the salaries of its staff, paying attention to living conditions and providing free transportation, subsidized cooking gas, free electricity and potable water whilst all employees have access to free medical care. However, Lewis said that that the attitude of the Rusal management to local workers suggested that the exploitation of bauxite was “the priority” and the welfare of the workers was “very much a secondary matter.”


Around the Web