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Rusal no show for labour meeting over dismissed workers, union says company should leave Guyana; legal action looms

Lincoln Lewis (left)

by Zena Henry

Almost five years since the arbitrary dismissal of some 50 Rusal workers who demonstrated against poor work conditions at the bauxite company, the matter is still not resolved and the union is adamant that the company should not be in Guyana if it cannot respect the law and rights of citizens.

This is according to Lincoln Lewis, General Secretary of the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) umbrella for the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers’ Union (GBGWU) which represents the bauxite employees.

Lewis told Demerara Waves that Rusal is still holding the false notion that the bauxite union has been derecognized and cannot speak on behalf of the workers. He said that the government recently summoned the union and the bauxite company, but by way of letter, Rusal opted to meet only with the government, claiming that they have no Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) with the union.

“But they fail to understand that it is not an issue of a CLA,” Lewis pointed out. “it’s a issue here where they are in breach of Section 23 of the law which says as long as there is a Recognition Agreement; recognition that has been issued by the Trade Union Recognition Board… it is compulsory that you meet with the other party.”

Lewis said the company has harped on the non recognition issue, but they do not have the authority to do that. “The company cannot determine the recognition, the Board determines recognition and for the union to be derecognized the workers who are members of that union have to say that they don’t want this union. And the Board will have to carry out the requisite survey and make that decision.”

In describing the attitude of the company in this matter, Lewis charged, “We see that we have fought slavery and indentureship, we have fought colonialism. We are now a Republic, we got our own constitution, and if the same type of people who put us through slavery and indentureship are coming back now to say to us that our constitution and out laws don’t mean anything to them; they are going to treat us anyhow, then what we are seeing is a reemergence of that period.”

Lewis said that under the law the government must act on this matter, since it was not brought to an end under the former administration. He said the government could go to compulsory arbitration, although when that was done under the former Labour Minister Nanda Gopaul, Rusal took him to court claiming that they were not properly addressed.

“Somebody has to take a position,” Lewis emphasized, “The private sector might get annoyed, but companies like Rusal must leave this country; Rusal, Oldendorff and a number of others; they must leave. If they can’t respect the laws and fundamental rights, then we have no place for you here?

Lewis said of the more than 300 Rusal workers, more than 200 of them are members of the union with the majority still paying union fees.

When contacted Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle about the meeting, he said there was no meeting since Rusal was a no show. “They did not turn up,” he said. When questioned about the union and the workers, he said, “The union is the recognized body and they (RUSAL) failed to bargain, negotiate with the union.” He said no one except the workers have the authority to derecognize the union.

Ogle said at this point, the Ministry of Social Protection (Labour) is awaiting the renewal of the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board (TURB) for this matter to be taken there. It is possible that the TURB could take Rusal to court, Ogle noted.

In 2009, the bauxite workers were arbitrarily sent home for demonstrating against bad work conditions. They reportedly blocked entrances, held picket exercises and encouraged others to demonstrate. The union is seeking the benefits and other dues owed to the workers and to also have them reinstated on the job.