As the Labour Department hopes to meet with the management of the Russian Aluminium (RUSAL)-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) and the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GB&GWU) in yet another move to reinstate 61 dismissed workers, government is considering whether to shut down the operations.
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman said “we are very disappointed and distressed and disturbed” by the industrial relations environment at RUSAL. Asked why government does not simply shut down RUSAL’s operations in the face of the company’s refusal to reinstate the workers while at the same time beginning the disassembling of machinery and equipment, Trotman said those options were being explored as part of a legal and technical assessment of the company’s operations.
“These have legal consequences and with the legal consequences we have to look towards what happens to the workers who are affected should we just take away or shut down,” Trotman said. He said a technical and legal assessment by the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) of RUSAL’s operations would help President David Granger and his ministerial cabinet decide what would be government’s next step. “We are looking at all of the legal and other consequences, either them closing or we closing them, but we can’t just have the status quo continue as is,” he said.
Among the options, Trotman said, that could be invoked for three mining licences is the closure as a result of unforeseen circumstances.
He noted that RUSAL and the Jamaican government were in court over a decision to revoke the company’s bauxite mining licence.
The company has so far bluntly refused to reinstate all 61 of the Guyanese workers who were dismissed for taking strike action for increased salaries. However, the Ministers of Labour Amna Ally and Keith Scott, have been informed by senior company officials that they were willing to re-employ those workers who did not instigate the strike or otherwise sought to disrupt work or prevent other workers from going to work.
Government’s Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle expressed optimism at Monday’s meeting that “he would be able to convince the Management of the Russian-based Company that in the interest of all stakeholders normalcy be returned without further delay.” Ogle pointed out that RUSAL-BCGI’s management has “continued to resist every encouragement to reinstate all workers who were recently dismissed”.
The company has in the past refused to meet with the Department of Labour with the GB&GWU present on the grounds because it does not recognise the union as the legal bargaining agent. However, government has insisted that the union won a trade union recognition poll and must be allowed to represent the workers.
GB&GWU President Lincoln Lewis has said the Minister of Labour is empowered to order arbitration, and even if the company refuses to participate, the findings and recommendations would be final and binding. Lewis has said legal action can also be taken against the company to force it to comply with the recommendations.
Minister Ally has expressed the hope that RUSAL-BCGI’s managerial stance had nothing to do with politics. Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, under whose administration RUSAL had come to Guyana, said the industrial situation at that company “is all about politics”. He stated categorically that “the workers’ interest must be protected by the government of Guyana but it can’t be a media show,” referring to the media’s invitation to cover a meeting between Ally and the management. At the same time, Jagdeo stopped short of criticising RUSAL directly due to a lack of information from management’s side, only saying that foreign companies must respect workers.
Jagdeo also objected to Ally saying that the industrial relations environment might be “political”. “She even said it might be political. When we had to fight to keep the jobs of the bauxite workers in Aroaima, they were on the other side, Lincoln Lewis and the others, and we managed to save those jobs when ALCOA walked away. We took back the company to the Treasury, re-nationalised it and kept it going until we found a replacement,” said Jagdeo, a Russian-trained economist.
When 59 workers who were dismissed by RUSAL in 2009, the then PPP administration was castigated for doing little or nothing to reinstate the workers.