El Dorado Offshore Inc. (EDO) says it will be investigating allegations of discrimination made by Guyanese seafarers it has recruited to work on offshore oil sector support vessels, including that they are being paid less than expatriates for the same jobs.
Over half a dozen veteran seafarers, who are contracted by EDO and are working on vessels at the moment, yesterday made the allegations at the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), where they spoke with reporters.
The workers did not want to be named out of fear of being victimised and possibly losing their jobs.
However, one of them, who is currently employed as an officer on a supply vessel, said he is currently making significantly lower than another officer on the same vessel who is of a different nationality.
“I don’t see if two persons doing the same job and [are of] different nationalities why they must be paid different and not just a little different… I have learned that the foreign officers are being paid US$600 per day and I am only being paid US$201 per day in the same category…,” he said.
He also alleged that their contract clearly states that they would be paid a normal rate on holidays and weekends and he contended that they should be paid double.
He also said the Guyanese workers are being paid in Guyana dollars while expatriates are being paid in United States Dollars (USD).
The men, who are all veteran seafarers with decades of experience, claim that they have never worked on a vessel where they were paid in their country’s currency and according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) laws, they should be paid under whatever flag the ship flies under, which would be USD in their case.
When contacted, EDO’s Manpower and Recruitment Director Natasha Jairam-Abai said no similar issues have been brought to the company’s attention and only minor ones have been related and those have been discussed and resolved.
Jairam-Abai stressed that her company only employs Guyanese and the 140+ seamen it has recruited for different vessels are all Guyanese.
“We employ Guyanese [and] as it is we wouldn’t know what the Trinidadians are being paid because they are hired and employed directly under the clients… so whatever they are being paid, we would not be aware of that,” she explained, while stating that an investigation into the claims would be launched.
According to Jairam-Abai, EDO’s clients hire persons from all over the world, who would have different contracts than the Guyanese workers recruited by her company.
She also said there is no set guideline that says all should be paid the same. “…If I have a guy working with me for ten years, would I be paying him the same wage I am paying a guy working for the first time?” she reasoned, while stating that the contractual terms with regards to payment have been negotiated to be in line, as best as possible, with the international standard.
Jairam-Abai explained that when a client makes a request to have qualified persons from Guyana working on its vessel, EDO facilitates the applications and does an internal screening and shortlists the most qualified persons. The list is then sent to the client, who then takes the applicants through other interviews and tests. The client always has the final say on who is hired.
She said that while Guyanese are often among the lower ranks, they are included in the promotion programme based on their performance. When the workers are promoted, the expatriates are slowly phased out, which creates space to hire more Guyanese.
“They know they can take a certain amount of locals that can work along with the expatriates and then they start phasing out persons. We’ve had persons promoted from an able-bodied painter to a roustabout,” she noted.
She said the workers’ contract is a standard one that was designed to capture every aspect of the industry. After the contracts are drafted, the client reviews them and if necessary would make suggestions, which would then be considered by the company.
In relation to the workers’ claim of not being paid double for working holidays and weekends, Jairam-Abai explained that the clause in the contract is something EDO raised with the client to have it changed.
“The foreigners work 28 days on and 28 days off and every day they work they get a pay… The Guyanese when they go home that is it, no pay and I work at other companies in Guyana and when you are off you work 28 days and let’s say you are off for 7 days, you get 7 days basic that’s 8 hours per day and that is the labour laws of Guyana and once you are paying tax in Guyana, you have to follow the labour laws,” a worker complained.
Jairam-Abai, however, pointed out that the contract says no one is paid when they are off the vessel and no one is supposed to be paid while they are off.
The men also noted that they have had meetings on their respective ships to no avail but they have not contacted the Ministry of Social Protection’s Department of Labour since a clause in their contract says they cannot disclose any information about their wages to any third party.
Jairam-Abai noted that this clause does not prevent the workers from speaking to the Department of Labour on issues they might be facing since they are working under the laws of Guyana.
One worker said a colleague had visited the Department of Labour but nothing has since happened.
“Remember, unless you brought to our attention that an international person is being treated higher than a local person, only that way we can go back to the client and say, ‘Guess what? We are being treated unfairly with our mariners and we need to get equal opportunity here.’ All of the EDO staff are Guyanese and some have identified minor issues, which we would’ve solved internally but nothing regarding what you are mentioning,” she added.
As it relates to payment in Guyanese currency, the woman pointed out that since they are working in Guyana’s jurisdiction and abiding by Guyana’s laws, the workers have to be paid in Guyanese dollars.
“If you are being paid in Guyana, your NIS [National Insurance Scheme], PAYE [Pay As You Earn] and others come out and that’s in Guyanese dollars because you are working in Guyana,” she said.
The workers said that they are unsure of what their next step will be but noted that they will be meeting with their union, while a GHRA representative recommended that they take the issue to the Department of Labour.