Region Six Chairman David Armogan yesterday said that there is a shortage of lumber in Region Six due to the blocking of the Berbice River by striking Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) workers.
“Right now, most of the sawmills are closed. Lumber is in short supply because of the fact that it cannot come down from the river,” Armogan said.
In late February, industrial action at the RUSAL-owned BCGI led to disgruntled workers placing an obstruction in the Berbice River so as to prevent the company’s barges from transporting bauxite.
The workers, who began striking on February 15th following the imposition of a unilateral 1% increase in wages by the company, along with other unaddressed issues, including BCGI’s unwillingness to recognise the union as the workers’ bargaining agent, had said the move is to signal to the company the need for urgency in finding a resolution. Following the firing of scores of striking colleagues, workers strung oil barrels and jars on wires across the Berbice River, blocking the passage of barges leaving and entering the mining site at Aroaima, Berbice River. The two sides have since begun a bilateral engagement but the dispute has not yet been resolved.
Armogan yesterday said that while he sympathised with the workers, their action has affected all sawmills and lumberyards in Region Six who operate out of the Berbice River. “Although I sympathize and I empathise with the workers because they have genuine concerns you cannot block a river and then deny other people from doing their business, that is unfair,” he said.
Armogan stressed that as Chairman of the region he could not condone a situation which leads to other businesses being affected. He also accused the government of doing nothing to rectify the situation.
According to Armogan, sawmill operators and others have visited his office to seek assistance. He said some of the persons related that they have staff stuck in the Berbice River with a short supply of rations. While others said their staffers went in with only a one-week supply of rations and they have been stuck in the area for a longer period.
Additionally, the chairman was told that the sawmill and lumber yards have started to send home staff since their businesses are presently not functioning.
Armogan said after being contacted by affected persons he then immediately made contact with Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman. “Unfortunately he doesn’t seem to be able to get anything done because the situation still persists. He told me two days ago that he hope the matter is going to be resolved during the course of this week,” Armogan added. “As minister he is hoping that it is going to be resolved and while people are punishing, these sawmills are sending home workers.”
He added, “They are intermediary between the workers and the company and so they should be able to get in and solve the problems, not affecting other people business, that’s the role of government.” He further opined, “Government again has been chucking their responsibility to certain sections of the business community”.
While stressing that all sawmill and lumberyards operating out of Berbice River in the region are presently affected, Armogan noted, that due to the shortage of lumber carpenters and persons who are in the midst of construction have also been affected. The chairman stated that this will now lead to a further reduction of employment in the region, which will drastically affect all of the citizens. As a result, he called on government officials to speed up the negotiation process and settle the matter or to remove the blockage immediately.