Loggers utilising the Berbice River as a transport medium have been left in a quandary, as the current blockage of the waterway by dismissed employees of Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI), is having a negative impact on their operations and businesses.
The BCGI – which is owned by Russian Aluminium company (RUSAL) – dismissed 61 workers on February 19, 2019, for protesting against a one per cent wage increase and a further 30 employees after a section of the operation was closed. However since then, RUSAL’s employees have blocked a section of the Berbice River, which leads to the company’s operation located at Aroaima, Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice). Sections of the access road were also obstructed to prevent anyone from entering.
For now, the loggers are not allowed to use the river and have been stranded for almost two weeks. One local sawmill owner from Canje, Berbice, Imtiaz Hoosein, explained to Guyana Times that while attention is being placed on the deadlock between RUSAL and its employees, consideration must be given to other stakeholders who are notably affected.
“The concern is only reflecting on RUSAL and its workers but we are small loggers and we are affected. I purchased some logs from up there and I’m stuck for over 10 days because they are not allowing them to pass,” said Hoosein.
The businessman explained that he would usually purchase timber once a month from Kwakwani in Region 10. The logs, worth millions of dollars, would be loaded at Aroaima to begin a four-day journey along the Berbice River to New Amsterdam.
“The logs were purchased in Kwakwani and we would use the river to transport the logs to New Amsterdam. We transport one load every month. We already load the logs and they’re not allowing my workers to pass. We understand the workers and the company issue but I don’t know why we can’t pass. We were told everybody has to wait. It’s frustrating to have to wait,” said the logger.
He added that his timber along with other loggers and four of his employees have been waiting to access the river for over 10 days; a situation which is affecting his business significantly since extra monies were paid to the workers and reimbursement for customers who cannot stand the wait.
“We losing money because these logs are already paid for. I collect advance from customers and lumber yards for maintaining my business. People are frustrated that they have to wait so I have to give them a refund and now its 10 days extra I have to pay the workers. The extra time and money for the workers alone is over $200,000,” he explained.
The river has been blocked with wire rope, preventing bauxite-laden barges from passing.
This publication understands that as a result of the blockages, the Russian company has lost millions already. It had also advised some 30 employees that their department was closed until further notice as a result of the ongoing events.
During a meeting with the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) and representatives of RUSAL, the company said it failed to recognise the Union. However, the stalemate ended last Tuesday when the Union and the company met with representatives of the Labour Department and recognition was given to the worker’s association.
According to Chairman of the GB&GWU, Lincoln Lewis the workers claimed they will continue with this form of protest until they are satisfied with what the company offers. This also means that RUSAL needs to obey the laws of Guyana.
In light of the standoff, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had said that under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration, a similar matter had arisen, and the then Administration managed to save the jobs that were at risk.