…as over 200 workers down tools
…planeloads of workers flown out of mines
Matters have escalated at Guyana Goldfields to the point where the Canadian-owned mining company has suspended most of its operations on day two of strike action from workers with various grievances with the company.
This publication understands that the company spent much of Wednesday transporting most of its personnel, via aircraft, from Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni) to the Eugene F. Correia Airport. This came after workers initiated strike action on Tuesday relating to concerns regarding their severance payments among other things.
Earlier in the day, the company issued a statement in which it said that the strike resulted from a misunderstanding. According to the company, the misunderstanding concerned management and certain open-pit contractors.
The company said that workers blocked the delivery of ore to its mill. It noted that with the exception of the underground decline, operations were suspended until a resolution could be reached with striking workers.
“The company is actively working along with its employees and adhering to applicable laws and regulations and is facilitating communication with the relevant Governmental labour authorities to understand and address employees’ concerns and to resolve the matter as quickly as possible,” it said in the statement.
“AGM has been examining options to improve mining performance in order to ensure Aurora’s long-term future. No decisions have been made concerning any possible changes to the mining operation at this time… The company is making arrangements to have the strikers meet with representatives of the Ministry of Labour to mediate the dispute,” the company added.
When this publication arrived at the Eugene F. Correia Airport, workers who were flown from Aurora quickly boarded Goldfields’ minibuses to transport them to their destinations. While some opted to head home, others headed down to the Social Protection Ministry’s Labour Department. This publication spoke to several workers, including one who revealed what concerns drove the workers to strike.
“There were certain concerns raised by those who were contract workers for four years and so on, and they haven’t been given any confirmation. There are cases where some workers are truck drivers and others are utility operators. That means they can operate many other equipment. And they’re paid on the same rate as the truck drivers,” the worker said.
Another added, “There were safety concerns being raised. And salaries. People have been working with the company for years and they’ve been advancing and working with other equipment and pay wise, they’re paid at a standard rate”.
While the company had said that workers “blocked” the delivery of ore to the mills, the workers explained that staff in fact lied on the ground in an effort to prevent the loader from transferring the ore from the stock pile.
After the meeting at the Labour Department, one worker explained that they informed the department of the need for a union to represent them. Previously, the company had said that a ‘Grievance Committee’, comprised of workers, dealt with any concerns the workforce had.
“The main concern was getting a union to represent the employees. And that was addressed. And we’re happy,” the worker said, adding that their discussions were generalised when he was asked if all locations or just Goldfield’s Buckhall operations were dealt with.
Another worker noted that they had requested for the Minister, in this case Junior Social Protection Minister, Keith Scott, to visit the workers on site at Aurora Goldmines in order to hear their concerns.
“We already voiced our concern here. Now they’re going to come on the ground and get an actual interaction with each and every individual and see what the actual conditions are,” he said, adding that they are expecting the minister to visit on Monday.
President of the National Mining Workers Union (NMWU) Sherwyn Downer had previously complained that his efforts with the Department of Labour to gain recognition in order to represent Guyana Goldfields workers were being hindered by the company.
On the other hand, the company has said that by law, Downer needed the support of 41 per cent of all workers and not just those stationed at Buckhall. The company had also made it plain that it will not allow the union on site to seek that support from workers, but rather, such a pitch must be made away from Aurora.
In an interview at the department on Wednesday, Minister Scott acknowledged the workers concern about being unrepresented by a union. He gave the Government’s commitment to ensure workers get their representation.
“The issues have been brought to the table. We promise to fast track the recognition for a union of their choice. We’ll also ensure that… (by next week) we’ll have both parties round the table (company and workers),” Scott explained.
Meanwhile, Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman expressed confidence in his junior counterpart’s ability to resolve the issue. According to Trotman, his ministry will nevertheless work alongside the Department of Labour to resolve the matter.
“I am expecting that within a reasonable time, the issues will be dealt with. I think the workers were given an opportunity and they have expressed their satisfaction with the way the meeting was conducted. They were given an opportunity to be heard”.