Workers at Russian bauxite company on verge of strike over tax deductions

Despite signing an agreement to pay their workers monies owed as a result of overpaid tax, the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) is yet to give a clear indication of when the workers will be reimbursed and Union representatives say they are keen on a company-wide strike from today if answers are not provided.

Gathered yesterday at the Guyana Trades Union Congress office, along with its General Secretary Lincoln Lewis, executives from the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBWU), including Branch President, Leslie Junor; Secretary, Garfield Brutus and Vice President Rawle Casey, the Union representatives expressed their disappointment at being “pushed around” by the Russian-owned company.

After eight months of holding out against the workers over stopping the payment of tax on overtime and all premium working hours, which was made official by then Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence, the company signed an agreement with the Department of Labour, and the Union on November 29. However, almost two weeks later, and the workers have not been paid the monies that are owned.

According to Brutus, a circular, which was also seen by Stabroek News, stated that they would only be able to distribute the money to the employees as a “stage-by-stage” refund. 

The circular, which was titled “Authorities’ decision on overtime tax pay refund” stated that a Company delegation led by D. Miroschinchenko, HR Direction from RUSAL headquarters, met with the Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Godfrey Statia on December 6.

“…After long and hard negotiations, head of GRA gave the RUSAL’s management team the final decision of the Government: From November 1, 2017 there are no deduction to GRA of tax payable from overtime pay to get a stage-by-stage refund of sum of $173,098,397,” the circular stated.

It went on to note that the permission was granted by the Revenue Authority verbally and as a result, the finance department of BCGI would be recalculating tax pay from November 1 to November 28, and would be preparing all payback procedures for cash-back payment sums of taxes from the same period before Christmas.

“According to Guyana’s law, Company needs to receive official GRA waiving decision which (is) still in progress,” the circular added.

The receipt of the circular prompted the Union’s representatives to write a letter to Statia, where they related that “We don’t want our money in parts or pieces, period.”

“…So kindly put an immediate halt to that decision of not wanting to deduct no tax from our wages and salary because we believe the Laws of our country says we need to pay as we earn so kindly desist from those [thoughts],” the letter said, while pointing out that they were requesting information as it pertains to the sum of money that every employee is owed along with the formula that was used for its calculations.

“Mr. Commissioner, you’re quite aware that the holiday season is approaching, we as workers wish to have our full amount of money since we’ve already earned it, as soon as possible so that our families can have a memorable holiday. But as of now our families are stagnated because of this massive delay caused by your institution,” the letter added.

Brutus reiterated that the workers do not want their payments in segments and they are of the opinion that the government is not giving the issue enough attention, which Lewis also agreed with.

“Our stance is that we are going to take action. We are going to shut down the company and call the workforce to a standstill until we get immediate attention as early as tomorrow [Tuesday] if no answers are provided,” Casey said, while adding that some 400 workers from across the industry would de downing their tools. 

Lewis also said that the company had initially told the workers that they had the money to pay them before the agreement was signed, however, after the deal was inked on paper, they changed their position.

BCGI and the workers have had a long-running dispute over the overtime tax deduction and other matters.

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