By Samuel Sukhnandan
As Minister of Labour Mr. Joseph Hamilton on Monday prepared to lead a government delegation into talks with Russian Aluminium (RUSAL), he vowed that that and other companies would not be allowed to prevent workers from being represented by trade unions.
“Workers will not be denied their right to form representative organisations or to be represented by union or unions of their choice . That is the policy position of the Ministry and the policy position of the government,” he said. Hamilton pledged to abide by Guyana’s constitution and law in dealing with workers’ rights.
Mr. Hamilton and officials of the Ministry of Natural Resources are due to discuss whether the RUSAL-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) would be restarting operations at its Upper Berbice River operations.
RUSAL-BCGI has over the years dismissed hundreds of workers and refused to negotiate with the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GBGWU), the recognised bargaining agent. In February 2020, the company fired 326 workers and suspended operations at the height of a labour dispute, although it had given in to demands by the government to engage the union for the first time in years.
“If RUSAL says they are not here, the conversation changes. But if they are an investor that is operating in Guyana, then the game plan will have to be different from what it was over the past several years…I will say that to RUSAL like I would say to all companies, under the restructured Ministry of Labour, workers will not be taken advantage of,” he added.
The Minister said he will “fight against anyone or any set or people or company” who attempt to do anything that comes into conflict with local labour laws. He also made a commitment that if local labour laws need to be revised to make it more robust, he will make the necessary recommendations to the cabinet for consideration.
“No company or expatriate will come and establish modern day plantations in Guyana. We have passed there a hundred and something years ago, and we will not return the children of indentured people, children or idigenous people and the slaves that come to Guyana. I can give that commitment to the people of Guyana,” he added.
Given RUSAL’s decision to send home workers, more than 130 others were later sent home as a result of the Germany-headquartered, Oldendorff Carriers Guyana Inc (OCGI) closure of its transshipment service in Guyana.