RUSAL, Union impasse ends

…workers reinstated, Berbice River to be cleared

After several weeks of deliberations, the impasse between RUSAL and its dismissed employees was finally resolved on Wednesday, when officials of the aluminium company and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) met and agreed to have the workers reinstated.
The series of events stemmed from the 61 workers, who downed their tools against RUSAL’s subsidiary, the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BGCI), 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.

Filed photo: RUSAL’s representatives leaving the office of the Labour Department during a previous meeting

This resulted in protests from the workers and the blockage of a section of the Berbice River, which leads to the company’s operation located at Aroaima, Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice).
On Wednesday, the issue was resolved after both parties signed a Terms of Resumption (ToR) which includes reinstatement of all 61 dismissed workers and those laid off during the dispute. It also cited 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 61 workers on February 19, 2019, after the protest, it had also advised some 30 employees that their department were 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.

A section of the Berbice River blocked by the workers

However, Union Chairman Lincoln Lewis maintained that the company has no authority to ascertain such, stating that it 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 business were severely affected when they could not access the river. One logger from New Amsterdam, Imtiaz Hussain explained to Guyana Times that while attention is being placed on the deadlock between RUSAL and its employees, other stakeholders were affected.
The timber, along with four employees of the company, were 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 could not stand the wait.
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 Labor Agreement. This will be referred to in case of any further disputes, which may occur in the future,” RUSAL stated in a statement to the media.
BCGI was established back in 2004 under the agreement whereby RUSAL owns a 90 per cent stake in the company, and the remaining 10 per cent belongs to the Government of Guyana.