Workers employed by the majority Russian-owned bauxite mining company, Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI) are now more hopeful of a comprehensive investigation into what they say are longstanding infractions on the part of the management of the company following last Tuesday’s visit to the operations at Aroaima in the Berbice River by a team from the Ministry of Social Protection led by Junior Minister Simona Broomes.
Shortly after she returned to Georgetown from Aroaima, Broomes told Stabroek Business in an exclusive interview that she felt “deeply disturbed” over what she said were “glaring cases of mistreatment” adding that the infractions that she had seen at BCGI’s Aroaima operations “simply could not be allowed to stand… Frankly, questions have to be asked as to how the previous political administration could have ignored the conditions and what I understand have been the complaints of the BCGI workers.”
A clash between BCGI’s Russian management and Broomes who has assumed an assertive posture on workers’ rights since her appointment, seemed inevitable after the company’s management had indicated that it was not prepared to meet with her once union representatives were present. The company’s workers have long been represented by the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) but the management of BCGI had reportedly indicated that it had been legally advised that the company is under no obligation to countenance a union. Asked to comment on this, Broomes told Stabroek Business that her understanding of the constitution “tells me that that is an unlawful and an unconstitutional position.”
Asked to comment on the issue of the unionization of the BCGI workers, Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary Lincoln Lewis who is also General Secre-tary of the GB&GWU told Stabroek Business that it was clear that the minister’s visit had thrown the management of BCGI “into considerable confusion” and exposed the excesses of the management. “On the issue of unionization it is not at all surprising that a management that is contemptuous of its workers would not want to countenance union representation.” BCGI commenced operations here in 2004 and the Government of Guyana is a minority shareholder in the company. The management of the company is made up entirely of Russians and former Chief Labour Officer Mohammed Akeel serves as an advisor on industrial relations.
During what this newspaper was told was an icy engagement at Aroaima, Broomes insisted on speaking with workers and management separately. “We wanted the workers to be able to express themselves,” she told Stabroek Business. Broomes spent much of her interview with this newspaper providing graphic accounts of inhospitable working conditions at BCGI.
She described “the ordeal” of a ship loader loading bauxite for 12 hours in heat and dust with no real protection.” At the company’s Kurubuku operation, Broomes said, she had observed workers having their lunch under a tarpaulin.
“At one point we observed what was supposed to be a First Aid Kit. The only problem was that it was empty,” she said.
Speaking about her encounter with the BCGI workers, Broomes said she was upset over the number of “strained and depressed faces” she had seen among the BCGI workers. She said that as has now become customary after her field visits a plan of action will be rolled out for engaging BCGI.
On Wednesday, a statement issued by the Social Protection Ministry charged that a denial of the BCGI workers’ right to unionization amounted to a denial of a constitutional right. Stabroek Business understands that President David Granger is to receive a petition from the BCGI workers on the restoration of the union.