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RUSAL suspends Guyana operations, moves equipment to warehouse for protection

Russian aluminum giant, RUSAL, has suspended bauxite production in Guyana and moved its equipment to a warehouse for protection, the Russian news agency, Sputnik, reported Sunday.

“At the moment, the activities of the mining department are still suspended; equipment has been moved to a warehouse and is under protection,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

Aggrieved workers began blocking the upper reaches of the Berbice River that barges traverse with bauxite to a transshipment vessel at the mouth of the river.

Word that the company has halted operations for the time being comes as top RUSAL officials and representatives of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) are due to meet Monday morning at the invitation of the government’s Labour Department.

Reacting to RUSAL’s decision to put a brake on its operations, Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman told Demerara Waves Online News, the Guyana government welcomes investors, but at the same time the two sides might have to decide whether RUSAL’s operations are benefiting them.

“Ultimately, government wishes to have companies invest and earn a fair rate of return and for our part, we will provide the enabling legal and regulatory environment. We do expect companies to harmonise relations with labour and the laws and norms governing that relationship, and if after trying, they are unable to find a sync, then an honest discussion needs to be had as to whether they are the right fit,” he said. Already, Trotman has said the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission has been tasked with conducting a review of the company’s operations to advise President David Granger and his ministerial cabinet.

Trotman wished Monday’s conciliation talks well and hoped the two sides would reach common ground. “I wish the talks with the Ministry of Social Protection well and expect that good sense and a large need for compromise will characterise the discussions,” he said.

He suggested that the conciliation talks focus on whether the suspension should remain or be lifted with better labour relations.

So far, the RUSAL-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated has dismissed 61 workers and terminated the services of 30 others. The company representatives have since bluntly refused to reinstate the workers and instead have told government they have begun disassembling trucks to be shipped to an unidentified country.

The industrial unrest began on February 15 after local workers demanded a salary increase, more than the one percent the company was paying.

“Since February 15, due to a massive violation of labor discipline, the operating activities of the mining department of the Bauxite Company of Guyana (BCGI) have been suspended. The workers of the department refuse to do their job and demand an increase in salary in accordance with the country’s forecast inflation,” the spokesperson said.

BCGI top managers held talks with representatives of the Government of Guyana, stressing that all company employees must fulfill their obligations in accordance with the job contract, he added.

RUSAL has been operating in Guyana since 2004 and owns a 90 percent stake in BCGI. The company has licenses for the development of bauxite deposits from the Kwakwani and Bissaruni groups. According to RUSAL’s website, BCGI employs 506 people and has a capacity to produce 2.5 million tonnes of bauxite annually. Bauxite is the primary source for aluminum production.