Rusal workers hear words of comfort from ministers

-as fears over US sanctions ease

Workers paying keen attention to an address yesterday. (DPI photo)

With the jobs of over 500 bauxite workers hanging in the balance because of US sanctions against Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, government ministers yesterday flew into Kwakwani to assure them that there will be minimal impact on their lives.

“They tell us, well basically, that they got we back and Minister (of Natural Resources, Raphael) Trotman say that the winding up process is going to be till (until) October 23rd and if Mr. Oleg withdraw from being a shareholder things would normalize,” one senior employee told Stabroek News following the meeting.

Another worker informed that yesterday’s meeting did not spark the discussions many were anticipating because they felt that their jobs were no longer under immediate threat.

“We were reading about the US sanctions in the papers but management didn’t tell us anything about what is going on so everybody de kind of jittery. When we heard that the minister coming everybody was glad because we had plenty questions, but then like when they hear that till November is the real decision, like they don’t care no more,” the employee noted.

Deripaska’s company, Rusal owns 90% of the Aroaima, Berbice-based Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI). The company’s operations are located on the Berbice River between Kwakwani and Linden in Region 10, with employees from those areas making up the majority of its workforce.

The United States last week imposed sanctions against Deripaska in a move which created the company’s worst ever fiscal crisis.

But the US on Monday gave American customers of Russia’s biggest aluminum producer more time to comply with sanctions, and said it would consider lifting them if United Company Rusal Plc’s major shareholder, Deripaska, ceded control of the company.

It would mean that Rusal now has more time to sell off its supply and even if sanctions are not ultimately lifted, buyers also have more time to seek other suppliers, Reuters said.

Yesterday, Ministers of Natural Resources  Trotman and Simona Broomes flew into the Kwakwani location of the company to meet with workers in the presence of company officials. Present at the meetings  also were Region 10 Members of Parliament Audwin Rutherford and Jermaine Figueira.  General Secretary of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBGWU), Lincoln Lewis, Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle and an engineer of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission were also present.

Trotman told this newspaper that the meeting went well and government committed to not only having their welfare put first in the matter but assured that they will be communicated with.

“We held a meeting with the workers who were happy to see us and informed them that government was working with both Rusal and Oldendorff to address the problems arising from the sanctions and asked for their patience and understanding,” Trotman said.

We committed to keeping them informed of every eventuality and to ensuring that they were treated fairly and according to law,” he added, while pointing out that the opportunity was used to thank Rusal for arranging the meeting and hospitality.

Overall, the Minister of Natural Resources believes that all stakeholders present benefited from the meeting.

“It was a good visit from all sides. The company was comfortable that the government was engaging to mitigate the effects of the sanctions, the workers were happy to see that they were not abandoned and government was able to hear from the workers and to demonstrate that it cares about both their situation and the company’s,” Trotman said.

Trotman had earlier said that government had been monitoring the situation “on a daily basis and meeting with company officials and unions” and reasoned that with an October compliance date in effect, there is room for putting measures in place to cushion the effects while reviewing current laws and industrial relations pertaining to the sector.

“The US has extended the compliance period from June 5 to October 23 and there appear to be room for manoeuvre. The US Secretary of the Treasury last evening made statements to the effect that the US was more interested in sanctioning the owner than the company and its workers and US allies and partners who have been indirectly affected,” Trotman said.

“Government remains optimistic that we will avert a disastrous situation and in any event this scare is a wakeup call and provides an opportunity for review of laws and industrial relations,” he added.

“Rusal, the company, the management and its workers have to find a way to work together to save this industry. The Government of Guyana has a duty to stand and work with you to save your jobs,” the Department of Public Information (DPI)  reported Trotman as telling the workers on site.

For his part, GB&GWU’s General Secretary, Lewis, echoed the called for collaboration between workers and the company to further the task force’s work. “It is for you to give the government the mandate as to the way forward. The government representatives … have made the point that the government is not prepared to leave you in the wilderness but to stand with you,” he said.

Managing Director of BCGI, Valerii Vinokurov, explained that the mining operations will restart after the ten-day halt, and that Oldendorff Carriers, will also continue its work with the company.

The German-based transshipment company used by Rusal for exporting bauxite from Guyana, had last week announced that it is “winding up” its operations here which would have originally ended on June 5th.

Additionally, BCGI representatives said that the company is working with the Bank of Guyana to open accounts in Euro currency to continue operations, DPI reported.  “I want to assure you there is nothing to be afraid of. Rusal company is not going anywhere we will continue to work and produce here in Guyana,” the Russian representative through a translator, was quoted as saying.

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