Govt’s handling of RUSAL matter was too ‘political’ – Jagdeo
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has disapproved of how Government handled the matter regarding the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), a subsidiary of Russian aluminium company RUSAL, and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU).
Prior to the agreement to reinstate workers last week, Jagdeo told the media that while he did not know about the details of the discussions between the two parties, which saw Government officials being excluded, he was pleased to see that fruitful engagement was taking place.
“I am pleased that the interested parties are sorting this out themselves and not to have (Minister) Amna Ally have a circus there just for political reasons,” he said, explaining that he felt that Ally tried to make the issue political even to the point where she called the entire country to bear witness to the discussions.
As such, Jagdeo asserted that “that’s not how you conduct labour negotiations”, explaining that all labour matters should be conducted where the two sides meet. He again pointed to the fact that Government tried to intervene, but did so without thinking about what its actions could mean.
After several weeks of deliberations, the impasse between RUSAL and its dismissed employees was finally resolved on Wednesday, March 20, when officials of the aluminium company and the GB&GWU met and agreed to have the workers reinstated.
The series of events was sparked when 61 workers downed tools against BCGI after they received a one per cent salary increase. Thirty other workers were dismissed after the company temporarily closed a section of its operations as a result of the strike.
This resulted in protests by the workers and the blockage of a section of the Berbice River, which leads to the company’s operations located at Aroaima, Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice).
The issue was resolved after both parties signed Terms of Resumption (ToRs) which include reinstatement of all 61 dismissed workers and those laid off during the dispute. The document also stated that there would be no victimisation or change of conditions for the reinstated workers; no compensation for time not worked during the dispute; return of the check-off system and clearance of the Berbice River.
“Both parties have further agreed to recognise the sovereignty, Constitution and laws of Guyana and neither shall act in contravention thereof; promised to uphold the spirit and goodwill to which the ToR was negotiated and signed and will do nothing to circumvent same,” the GB&GWU said.
While BCGI had dismissed the 61 workers on February 19, 2019, after the protest, it had also advised some 30 employees that their department was closed until further notice as a result of the ongoing events.
Initially, RUSAL had contended that it was a violation of the workers’ contract to strike. When the Union had intervened, RUSAL initially refused to recognise the Union, resulting in the prolonged stalemate.
However, Union Chairman Lincoln Lewis maintained that the company had no authority to ascertain such, stating that it was a responsibility of the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TURCB).
The stalled negotiations resulted in disgruntled workers and supporters blocking the Berbice River to prevent bauxite-laden barges from passing, a move which cost RUSAL millions of dollars.
While the intention was to affect RUSAL, other businesses were severely affected when they could not access the river. One logger from New Amsterdam, Imtiaz Hussain explained to Guyana Times that while attention was being placed on the deadlock between RUSAL and its employees, other stakeholders were affected.
His timber, which is transported via the River, was stuck, unable to traverse the river for over 10 days, along with four employees – a situation that affected his business significantly since extra monies were paid to the workers and customers who could not wait were reimbursed.
Now that the matter has reached a resolution, both parties are scheduled to meet 14 days after the resumption of work to commence negotiation of a new Collective Labour Agreement (CLA).
“The Agreement further outlines that within 14 days of the full resumption of work, the parties will commence negotiation of a new Collective Labour Agreement. This will be referred to in case of any further disputes, which may occur in the future,” RUSAL said in a statement to the media.
The BCGI was established back in 2004 under an agreement whereby RUSAL owns a 90 per cent stake in the company, and the remaining 10 per cent belongs to the Government of Guyana.