BCGI implements shutdown after workers’ strike

Lincoln Lewis

The Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), which is controlled by Russian Aluminium (RUSAL), has shut down a part of its operations and ordered nearly 200 workers to vacate company property following a strike over an imposed hike wages.

“Management has no option but to close the operations at the mines,” Managing Director Valerii Vinokurov, in a memorandum on Friday to all members of the mining and mobile equipment maintenance departments said, while citing the withdrawal of labour by workers.

Vinokurov noted that the operations have been closed indefinitely and ordered all workers to leave the premises immediately.

“As such all workers attached to the Mining Department Mobile Equipment Maintenance are hereby advised that the work of the Mining Department/Mobile Equip-ment Maintenance has been brought to a stop until further notice. All affected workers are asked to leave the premises of the company with immediate effect,” he added.

The company’s actions followed a decision by the workers to strike to protest of an imposition of a 1% hike in wages without collective bargaining.

A representative of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) had told this newspaper on Friday that the protest started on Friday morning with day shift workers from the mines and maintenance departments downing tools. At the end of their shift, they were joined by the night shift workers from the same departments.

A statement from the union was also released in which it claimed that workers were threatened with dismissal if they failed to return to work on Friday.

“…All are reminded that since December 2009, under the noses of successive governments, BCGI has been engaged in a series of violation of the law and transgressing of the workers’ rights,” the statement, signed by General Secretary Lincoln Lewis, said, while noting that the management continues to refuse to treat with the union.

Lewis told Stabroek yesterday that the action of the company is in line with its behaviour over the last four years.

“They are terrorising the workers and [Minister] Keith Scott [who has responsibility for labour] comes across as begging when he deals with these people rather than being firm,” a frustrated Lewis stressed.

He noted that union is set to meet with the Department of Labour on Monday at 10 am and bemoaned the fact that two successive administrations have failed to make RUSAL compliant with Guyana’s labour laws.

“What RUSAL has done over the years no other company has ever done it in my life as a trade unionist. In the past, companies have done less than what is taking place and government would have called them in and dealt with them. A Burnham government would’ve already given them the ultimatum of ‘Conform to our laws or face the consequences,’” Lewis stressed.

He indicated that the coalition government has not reprimanded RUSAL and it needs to step up and protect Guyanese workers.

“Tell these people to respect our laws and if they can’t throw them out. Conform to our laws or leave,” he said, before adding that government cannot in good conscience ask local managers to conform to laws while foreigners don’t.

“If was a local manager, he would have been before the court already,” Lewis explained before adding that while the workers can take RUSAL before the court, government has a responsibility and should initiate the action on their behalf.

According to workers, the Russian-owned company has doubled its daily production within the last few months. “They have doubled since they got the sanctions lifted. We are now producing between 1.5 barge, which carries about 3,200 tonnes, to 3 barges within 24 hours,” one worker said.

He noted that while management has indicated that the company is not able to pay hefty wage increases, it recently invested in 13 Caterpillar 777 trucks.

It was further explained that workers are not being paid their overtime allowances and are only given $300 for meal allowances if they work through their break.

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