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RUSAL workers resist eviction, gov’t vows to clampdown on “justifiable grievances”

As representatives of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GBGWU), Russian Aluminium (RUSAL) and the Ministry of Labour prepare to discuss on Monday a pay dispute and alleged violation of workers rights, the union on Sunday further complained that efforts were being made to evict them from a housing settlement near the mine site.

“Workers have ignored the edict and are resolutely standing their ground. They, along with their families, remain within Maple Town,” the union said in a statement.

The union alleged that the RUSAL-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) threatened to remove 120 workers and their families from Maple Town, Aroaima. “This cannot be allowed to happen in Guyana. The Russian management of BCGI must not be allowed to exploit our resources and in the process violate Guyanese and disrespect our Laws. Not here in Guyana!,” the union said in a statement.

The union said the company provided buses to move out the workers and their families, including children who attend nearby nursery and primary schools.

The union suggested that the Guyana Government and the Ministry of Public Security have a right to ensure the workers are protected.

“The further act of seeking to physically dispossess them is not only lawless, inhumane, vindictive and uncalled for but a violation of their conditions of employment. Every act of the worker remains consistent with Article 147 of the Guyana Constitution,” the union said.

Last week, after a strike to protest the one percent salary increase, the company closed two sections, ordered the workers to leave the site immediately and the mining operations were shut down.

Neither Junior Labour Minister, Keith Scott nor Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle could be reached for a comment.

However Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman said government has decided to swiftly address “justifiable grievances”. “We are very concerned about the industrial situation at RUSAL. We had advised, and Cabinet had agreed that now that the sanctions were lifted the number 1 priority is addressing workers’ justifiable grievances and concerns,” Trotman told Demerara Waves Online News.

Trotman, a lawyer by profession, highlighted that Guyana’s constitution guarantees the fundamental right to workers to assemble and to organise themselves into a union.

“The Ministry of Natural Resources expects that the Department of Labour will immediately intervene and stands ready to provide support,” he added.

The GBGWU said other workers, who live partially on site, have had kitchen services taken away from them. The union explained that those workers spend two weeks on site and leave for their days off.  “It is evident in the management thinking that workers can be brought to their knees by depriving them of food. This tactic will not break the indomitable spirit and will of those who are committed to struggle for their freedoms. The many examples of history are on their side,” the union said.

The GBGWU contended that the stalemate is much more than that of an industrial nature. “It has elements of ethnic disrespect, political bias, political inaction and disrespect for Guyana’s sovereignty (Laws). Friday’s act by management, in closing down critical areas of operation (mining and maintenance) and ordering workers and their families out of the town, has escalated the contempt.”