by Samuel Sukhnandan
The Russian Aluminium (RUSAL)-controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Inc. (BCGI) has expressed an interest in reopening after suspending its operations in February this year and firing hundreds of workers, citing industrial unrest and damage to property.
The company’s Country Representative and General Manager Mr Vladimir Permyakov met with a high-level team of ministers and other government officials on Monday, where they were asked to submit a report which would set out how the company could return to viability given its interest in future investment.
That team included Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton, Minister of Natural Resources Vickram Bharrat, Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn, Commissioner of the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) Newell Dennison, among others.
During the meeting, RUSAL raised several labour-related issues it encountered, including the blocking of the Upper Berbice River which prevented their access to conduct critical works in the mine. The river was blocked for almost two weeks after 142 workers had been laid off because the company did not get duty-free fuel concessions.
“They stressed also that the industrial relations environment needed much mending to restore the confidence for significant further investment in the operations,” Mr Bharrat said.
Economic concerns were also mentioned in that meeting, as RUSAL maintained that the operating cost for extracting Guyana’s bauxite was not as competitive on the world market, as from other sources and there was now the potential added costs of remedial work in the mine. RUSAL which currently owns 90 per cent of BCGI also expressed an interest in seeking investors for their share in the venture. Government only owns 10 percent of the shares.
“They related their view that there are presently several technical matters which have to be addressed in the first instance, such as the restoration of the mine for safe mining after it became flooded,” the minister added.
Minister Bharrat said a Joint Technical Committee meeting could take place in three weeks to examine further how there could be progress if that was possible, in respect of the future of the bauxite operations by RUSAL.
Recently, Minister Hamilton said he would explain to RUSAL that they cannot prevent workers from being represented by trade unions.
“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,” Minister Hamilton said Monday before that meeting.
He committed to “fight against anyone or any set or people or company” who attempt to do anything that comes into conflict with local labour laws.
“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 indigenous people and the slaves that come to Guyana. I can give that commitment to the people of Guyana,” he added.
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. It previously employed over 500 persons at its operations on the Upper Berbice River between Kwakwani and Linden with the majority being Guyanese.