The visit last December to Guyana by officials of the Russian company RUSAL, the majority shareholder in the local company Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc (BCGI) in an effort to end a longstanding industrial relations’ dispute involving workers and management may have paved the way for an improved relationship between the two sides, General Secretary of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) Lincoln Lewis has told the Stabroek Business.
“We’re talking; the union, the company and the Government of Guyana, and when you consider where we were just a few months ago that in itself is a significant step forward,” Lewis told this newspaper.
Lewis said that following the visit here by the two Russian officials late last year the three-way discourse aimed at “restoring a condition of normalcy between the company and the workers’ representatives, talks had begun more than two months ago. We have moved to a position where there is formal engagement within a convivial framework and this is the first time in years that we have been able to make such a claim. My feeling is that we may well have arrived at common ground on about 80 percent of the issues under discussion,” Lewis said, though he declined to provide specifics on those issues.
The Russian management of BCGI has been publicly and persistently criticized for what is widely felt to be its draconian treatment of Guyanese workers as well as its on-site safety and health practices. While the GB&GWU represents BCGI workers, union officials are denied access to the company’s operations, a circumstance which Lewis had previously told this newspaper.
Lewis, who is also General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) said that high on his own list of priorities, going forward is “the reinstatement of the union to its rightful position,” a development which he said “will open the door for discussion and settlement of the various other issues.”
Lewis said that following the December visit by the Russian officials from RUSAL, a memorandum of understanding between the union and the company had been signed. He said the Ministry of Social Protection had become involved in the discourse two months ago and Minister Keith Scott was serving as Chairman of the meetings. Asked to provide an overall assessment of the state of the discussions, Lewis said that “without wishing to make a definitive call,” he believed, “the atmosphere in which the discussions are being held points to a change…. I understand that this is an issue in which there a significant degree of public interest but as long as the talks are ongoing I want to speak guardedly on the matter. The fact of the matter is that the relationship is not what it was six months ago. We are at a table and there has been an absence of rhetoric and acrimony,” Lewis said.