A letter written to the Managing Director of the majority Russian-owned Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) by Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman and which seemingly heaped praise on the relationship between the company’s Russian management and its Guyanese work force has been criticised by Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary Lincoln Lewis on the grounds that its contents “do not accurately portray the state of management/worker relations at BCGI.”
In a comment on the letter by Trotman to Valery Vinokurov, who represents RUSAL, the Russian-owned company that has a majority stake-holding interest in BCGI, Lewis said that he was surprised that the sentiments expressed in the Minister’s letter to Vinukorov “did not appear to reflect an awareness of the true nature of relations between the Russian management of BCGI and the workers even after the extensive publicity afforded the relationship in the local media. “While I am disappointed in statements made in the Minister’s letter regarding the relationship between the parties, I shall be using this unfortunate occurrence to try to meet with Minister Trotman to brief him on the true nature of the relationship”, Lewis, who is also General Secretary of the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU), the bargaining agent for the BCGI workers told Stabroek Business. The December 20th letter addressed a number of issues including a recent ground-breaking decision that allowed for BCGI workers to be refunded income tax paid on overtime work. In his letter Trotman expressed satisfaction over the fact that the bauxite company and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) had reached an amicable resolution on the issue of the refund of the monies paid as income tax on overtime worked.
Trotman’s letter also congratulated the company on its recent investment in new mining equipment as well as on “employment numbers.”
However, Lewis noted that having given BCGI a pat on the back for what he perceived to be “genuine workplace accomplishments” Trotman’s letter wandered into other areas in which BCGI “does not, by any stretch of the imagination, deserve kudos.”
In his letter, Trotman said that both the management and the workers were to be congratulated for their “mutually satisfying relationship,” a pronouncement which Lewis described as ‘an unfortunate misrepresentation of the actual situation.” Stressing that what the Minister said did not even come “close to the truth”, Lewis told Stabroek Business that the reality was that “BCGI probably has the worst industrial relations record of any workplace in the country. The Labour Department of the Ministry of Social Protection is well aware of the many indiscretions of BCGI so that I have to assume that this information may not have been shared with the Ministry of Natural Resources.”
Lewis told Stabroek Business that a copy of Minister Trotman’s letter to the BCGI Managing Director had been shared with him by workers at the company who had advised him that the management was using the letter as a kind of a “badge of honour to demonstrate to the workers that its government was pleased with its performance.
“Whatever the intention of the Minister may have been the fact of the matter is that in the present climate, correspondence of that nature and its use in the manner that BCGI has chosen to use it can serve to demoralize a work force that is already the victim of all sorts of discrimination,” Lewis said.
Since the acquisition of majority shareholding in the Berbice bauxite operations of BCGI there have been frequent disagreements between the Russian management and local employees over a range of issues including safety and health and other working conditions of work. The Russian management of BCGI has also refused to engage the GB&GWU as the legitimate representative of the workers.
Lewis has told Stabroek Business that he believes that the disregard by BCGI’s Russian management for Guyanese workers has been largely a function of what he describes as “the laid-back indifference of the government.“ He said that he would be seeking to engage Trotman on the matter at the earliest possible time.