Govt awaiting report from ‘non-existent’ taskforce
Rusal workers’ future
Barring the recent announcement that Russian aluminium giant Rusal has received a temporary reprieve from the United States in the form of an extension of the deadline for ending third-party transactions, there is deep worry about how the local bauxite workforce will be affected.
Nevertheless, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon told the media on Monday that while a special task force was set up by Cabinet to deal with the future of workers attached to subsidiaries of Rusal in light of US-imposed sanctions, no report has been submitted to date.
“The work of the committee is within the time frame that has been allotted to them and we expect before the deadline expires we will have a memorandum coming to Cabinet … that is with clear recommendations of what needs to be done,” he explained.
The Government’s chief spokesman went on to explain that when a document arrives at Cabinet, it is studied by the subject Minister and a memorandum with recommendations, the impact and all other issues accompanies the report of any committee that is established.
He said, “So, it’s not just a committee finishing the report and it comes to Cabinet. The responsible minister has to review the document and has to make clear recommendations. Once that happens, we will have a clear vision of what we can do in that situation.”
A few months ago, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman and a team visited Rusal’s operations where they listened to concerns by workers over the impending sanctions. The Government subsequently announced the setting up of the task force.
The seven-member task force was given specific instructions by Cabinet “to hold discussions with the workers of Rusal on the impact of the sanctions on the work force”. It was headed by Minister within the Natural Resources Ministry, Simona Broomes and included Minister within the Finance Ministry, Jaipaul Sharma; President of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBGWU), Lincoln Lewis; Member of Parliament, Audwin Rutherford; Ministry of Social Protection’s Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle; Member of Parliament, Jermaine Figueira and Secretary Alicia James.
But Broomes later stepped down after there was some confusion over an interim report that was submitted that totally ignored the US sanctions, but looked more specifically at labour relations issues between the company and the Union. Since then nothing has been done on the matter and no one has since officially replaced Broomes, although a name has been touted.
No task force
GBGWU’s Lewis told Guyana Times Tuesday that he was unaware that the task force was active, while raising concerns that the team should have been actively engaged in intense discussions with bauxite workers, particularly those who are likely to be affected by the US sanctions.
“I don’t know how Government is handling this issue. There is no task force that currently exists. Minister Broomes has resigned and no one has said anything to us for at least six weeks now,” he stated, explaining that these workers’ concerns should be of paramount importance.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) levied sanctions upon Rusal on April 6, citing its alleged interference in the Governments of several countries, including allegedly meddling in the 2016 US presidential election.
Rusal was among several organisations named under the sanctions. However, the impact upon Rusal and the wider aluminium trade has been significant. As one of the world’s most prolific providers of alumina, sanctions on Rusal have threatened vital supplies of the substance to a market that was already reeling from the partial shut-down of an alumina refinery in Brazil.
The threat of sanctions has also sent many of Rusal’s customers scrambling for different, potentially more reliable sources of aluminium and alumina. Even if sanctions are lifted later this year, many experts warn that Rusal will continue to suffer the effects.
Rusal employs over 500 persons at its local operations. The company owns 90 per cent 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, with residents from those areas making up the majority of its workforce.