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GB&GWU insists on arbitration, other demands before workers recall

GBGWU General Secretary Lincoln Lewis and GTUC President Coretta McDonald.

The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU) on Saturday said it has made up its mind that its pay dispute with the Russian Aluminium (RUSAL)-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc must be taken to arbitration.

Reacting to positions taken by RUSAL representative, Vladimir Permyakov and ahead of a meeting government’s Department of Labour plans to seek with the union, GB&GWU General Secretary Lincoln Lewis demanded arbitration “now” and so “GB&GWU calls for declaration of an impasse to be followed immediately by arbitration.”

He restated that the workers are willing to resume duty if all 288 workers laid off on 23rd and 30th January “without loss of pay or service given that the acts of sending them off violate Section 12 of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.”

Permyakov has already said his company has not violated Guyana’s labour laws because the workers’ services were not terminated but they were merely laid off.

Lewis accused RUSAL of shifting the contention of violation of Guyana’s laws from labour breaches to those of maritime. “What they are intended to do now is play another government agency against the workers of Guyana because the unblocking of the (Upper Berbice) River is not the responsibility of the Department of Labour. RUSAL has successfully over the years by some measure rendered the Department of Labour ineffective in dealing with them but they are seeking to have another government department attend to their grievance,” he said.

Other demands being laid down are compensation for the two employees who suffered from electrical shocks while in the course of duty and were left to fend their way to the Kwakwani hospital where they were subsequently admitted and were not paid for the time they were hospitalised and off the job, and the appointment of an arbitration tribunal to resolve wages and salaries grievance.

GB&GWU says it is forced therefore to recognise the actions of the frustrated persons to block the river as an act of desperation to bring about social justice when all legal and procedural avenues have been stymied by inaction, foot-dragging and misrepresentation of advice on best practices.

The company says it was ready since last week to resume operations but it could not do so because the Upper Berbice River continued to be blocked, preventing the movement of bauxite and other supplies up and down the river and to export markets.