The Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) recognises Junior Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Ms Simona Broomes’ ongoing visits to workplaces and more particularly the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI). The minister and her team were able to visit the Aroraima site, witnessed the deplorable working conditions, interacted with the workers and heard from them about their grievances and the abuses inflicted by management. This, while revealing for the public, confirmed the concerns already expressed by the trade union community. The GTUC is encouraged that Minister Broomes has committed to follow up the BCGI visit by writing management outlining the ministry’s concerns. The GTUC looks forward to the minister following through on the commitment.
However, the GTUC wishes to state that even as the minister carries out her responsibility, there exists concern that the process for resolving matters dating back to 2009 which include 67 workers suspended for refusing to work under unsafe conditions and 57 dismissed, among whom were persons on annual vacation, remains outstanding. The commitment given to the High Court by the Ministry of Labour in June 2012 that letters would be re-issued for the commencement of arbitration must be respected. For these reasons the GTUC once again calls on Minister of Social Protection Ms Volda Lawrence, who has cabinet responsibility, to have these letters issued as a matter of urgency.
The results of the hard work of Ms Broomes and her team will only materialise when political and legal weight, inclusive of the cabinet, is thrown behind it. The current government while in opposition correctly demanded that Nanda Gopaul, then Minister of Labour, execute the court’s decision. Today the authority is vested in the current government and the GTUC finds their dilatory tactics troubling and unacceptable.
The 29th November marks six years since BCGI, managed by Russians supported by an uncaring Government of Guyana, denied the company’s workers their constitutional right to belong to and be represented by a trade union of their choice. These acts violate Article 147 of the Guyana Constitution and Sect 23 (1) of the Trade Union Recognition Law. Workers and citizens’ rights are non-negotiable, and nothing must come in the way of having them respected. The rights and freedoms that are enshrined in the Guyana Constitution come without a stipulated timeframe as to when they ought to be enforced, and implicit in that is the meaning they be must be enforced at all times.
The heavy burden of the disenfranchisement of bauxite workers and their families now rests squarely on the shoulders of Minister Lawrence, and she is called on to discharge her constitutional responsibility without fear or favour. During the six-year struggle lives for the aggrieved workers have changed. Some have lost their lives and families, suffered injuries, have children forced to leave school, along with poverty and other social fall-outs. These are factors that ought to propel any caring minister to act with alacrity.
The feeling by workers that they have a friend in the Department of Labour whereby the laws will be respected in relation both to them and their employers needs to be nurtured and grown. Further, an industrial environment premised on respecting rights and the rule of law is pivotal to sustainable development. Guyana must now take her rightful place among progressive nations.