Junior Minister of Social Protection Simona Broomes alleged that during a visit to the mining operations in Region 10, she found atrocious conditions under which workers were forced to toil.
The State-owned Government Information Agency (GINA) reported that Broomes and her team of Occupational Safety and Health inspectors found numerous problems that threaten the life and limb of workers. They include a sparsely furnished lunchroom with no central or functioning air condition unit, and one adjacent to an exposed sewage pipe, improper tunnels with live electricity and water on the floor, inadequate safety equipment such as basic face masks instead of industrially approved safety masks with proper filters and respirators were some of the harsh conditions.
Over at the East Montgomery mines, workers complained of being forced to cramp themselves into one bus for transportation into the worksite. According to the workers, the company had two big businesses that transported the workers to the mine and the docks, but after one became inoperable, no moves were made to get a second.
The mine workers complained of working under unsafe conditions, such as an open pit, which many felt was too steep and in some parts more dangerous than the one that saw the ten miners losing their lives recently at an interior location. Working the pit in the night was also made more difficult by the fact that workers had to do so with inadequate lighting. “We need maxi lighting sets, they have we working with pole lights that deh at this end of the mine and another at that end of the mine. If we gon work night, we need the pit to be bright as day…when you working in there in the night, as soon as you trunk off the machine light, you can’t see in front you,” one worker said.
It was pointed out that many heavy-duty machine operators lack functioning units. “These machines, often they get AC problems and them threaten operators, them want them to work in that oven for hours,” one worker told the Minister.
The Minister was also apprised of what workers said were the victimisation and verbal abuse they suffer, when they complained about such issues as “no raise of pay, being evaluated and being told there is no money to pay, being denied pay when sick, despite falling sick on the job and being checked by the onsite medic and taken to the hospital, by that official.”
One worker told the Minister of an incident where he complained to the Mines Manager about the AC in the lunchroom not working, to which the Manager replied “first place I come and see two AC in one room, how much of you have two ACs in your house…”
As one worker puts it, “All these people concern with is this bauxite, and getting it out, and we get the crumbs from their table.”
The workers at the mine work under these conditions, 12 hours per day, for a basic salary of US$100 per week. “This is the first time in five years we have seen anyone; we haven’t got no visit from no minister, no union,” one of the mine workers told the Minister
According to Minister Broomes, the visit exposed many serious lapses and lack of oversight by the previous administration. She noted that the previous government had placed restrictions on labour inspections across the country.
According to Minister Broomes, there has been a halt on inspections for about two years. “… that was deliberate, that was to ensure that these people, with foreign and local companies, suppress our people, this is very bad, that speaks for ourselves,” she pointed out.
She noted that under the Minister of Protection, there will be a difference. “We will be traversing to the length and breadth of Guyana. We will be looking at health and safety practices for workers in Guyana, we will also be looking at child labour, in the work places, so you will see more of labour,” she warned.
“…we want to visit, we want to meet with workers, we want to know what are the challenges …we want to establish the kind of relationship with all the companies, be it local, foreign, so that we will ensure that the whole aspect of health and safety will be addressed in a more active way and not in a proactive manner,” she continued.
She added that “protocol will be established with security at the gates of these, so that in future, when labour shows up, they will have immediate access to the company.” The Minister was referring to the fact that when the team arrived at the Bosai factory, it was forced to wait at least 10 minutes for clearance to enter the plant. “They should all know that health and safety would not always give notice, to say to companies, oh we are coming in, we will like to come in impromptu to witness for ourselves what is taking place on the ground,” the Minister said.
Meanwhile, as it relates to the working conditions of the Bosai workers, Minister Broomes, told the workers that she was saddened at what they had to endure to take care of their families. “I think our workers here are treated badly, going into the tunnel and all the electricity and all the live wires and water and the condition, it has saddened me.”
The Minister said that she definitely would be briefing President David Granger on the visit. “We definitely have to make some serious decisions. We have to look at these contracts that were signed with these companies by the previous government and to really have our inputs in terms of the changes,” she said.
“The previous government has neglected the workers. Workers’ health and safety were never being considered. This government is all about change and we will definitely ensure that we get a change to this,” she said.
She pointed out to the workers, the ministry was renamed Social Protection for a reason, and their “social protection is here.
“There is not a hold anymore on inspection, we will have inspections, we have an officer here who will visit, we will come sit down at the bargaining table with all the managers, they will know what are the standards that we are going to set and they have to follow those standards, so we are not just here as a comedy show is, but to ensure that the changes we talk about happen…,” she promised the workers.