RUSAL’s intransigence will persist unless gov’t throws down its own gauntlet

There is a sense of contempt and callousness in the treatment customarily meted out to workers employed at the Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) by the managers of the company. That has obtained almost from the moment that the company’s managers, Russian functionaries in the employ of the company’s majority shareholder RUSAL, first set foot on Guyana soil. The posture of the Russians toward the Guyanese work force goes beyond the worker/management relationship per se, and extends into the perception on the part of the managers of the worth of Guyana and the Guyanese workers in the bigger scheme of things. 

RUSAL is one of Russia’s industrial powerhouses, the world’s premium aluminum producer and anyone who is even vaguely familiar with the modus operandi of the company would be aware of its reputation in the management of bauxite mining operations outside of Russia itself. Countries like Guinea, for example, provide instances of abuse of workers and entire communities by RUSAL’s Russian managers whose concern, customarily, reposes solely in the extraction of the bauxite ore and its removal to the Urals or wherever else it might be needed to feed the company’s aluminum plants. However much those host countries like Guinea may wish that the situation were different (and there are instances when those governments themselves can be indifferent), the reality is that they lack the capacity to extract the bauxite and move it to markets where there is a need. In the instance of Guyana, the circumstances are really no different. On the whole, Guyana exerts very little influence in the global bauxite industry and it is that lack of any real leverage that works to the advantage of RUSAL and its managers.

We must make no mistake about the fact that RUSAL’s managers who serve the company in Guyana arrive here not only fully briefed but possessed of an attitude that is consistent with the nature of the brief, so that worker/management relations is built around such protocols as are necessary to ensure that RUSAL’s mandate is satisfied and nothing more. There is, as well, a keen awareness on the part of the host country’s government— in this instance the Government of Guyana— of the unequal nature of the arrangement. There is, of course, a line that can and should be drawn. Whatever the clout of RUSAL as a global industrial superpower, its status does not supersede the prerogative of a sovereign state. The fact that an agreement exists between the Government of Guyana and RUSAL under which the Russians mine bauxite on Guyana’s soil, compels the Russians to abide by the laws of Guyana, not least those that apply to the rights and entitlements of Guyanese workers. Put differently, it is the Government of Guyana that has the responsibility to hold the Russians’ feet to the fire as far as adherence to the laws of Guyana, including those that have to do with the rights of the workers concerned.

Neither of the successive political administrations that have formed the government in Guyana since RUSAL first came here in 2004 can honestly deny that there have been specific instances in which the contempt which the BCGI’s Russian management has demonstrated for the workers has not been extended to the government; none moreso than those instances in which the BCGI’s managers have arrogantly refused to respond positively to official summonses to attend meetings. In the matter of the workers, arbitrary dismissals and refusal to engage the trade union of the workers’ choice has long been the order of the day. RUSAL’s Russian managers truly conduct themselves as though Guyana is some remote province of Russia which exists solely for the purpose of mining bauxite and which has no government or authority. Put differently, RUSAL does not think it is answerable.

The real truth is, of course, that the Russians have never really been required to answer. There has been no occasion, not one, on which the Government of Guyana has ever drawn a line in the sand or thrown down the proverbial gauntlet by demanding that the Russian management at BCGI toe the proverbial line insofar as the mindfulness of the laws of the land, including those that have to do with the rights of the Guyanese workers employed with BCGI are concerned. The reality is that BCGI’s Russian managers see the company as no more than a tiny extension of the colossus that is RUSAL, so that against that backdrop, BCGI’s workers, their union and the laws and government of Guyana, become hopelessly lost in the thick mist of Russian conglomerate authority. Nothing will change unless the authorities here draw their own line in the sand.

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