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Guyana Bauxite Dispute: Union reports dispute to Recognition & Certification Board

posted 4 Jan 2010, 17:28 by National Workers Union

Press Statement

Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union

January 4, 2010

The GB&GWU has today after much deliberation and the public statements, responses and non-responses of the Minister of Labour, Mr. Manzoor Nadir; Chief Labour Officer, Mr. Yoganand Persaud and BCGI General Manager,  Mr. Sergey Kostyuk,  has formally dispatched the following correspondences :

1)      A complaint to the Ethnic Relations Commission to commence a public  inquiry into charges of discrimination against BCGI’s employees and the GB&GWU on the grounds of race and political geography;

2)     The Trade Union Recognition & Certification Board on BCGI’s  action in soliciting workers to sign a company prepared petition requesting the Board to call a Poll under Section 31 of the Trade Union Recognition Act, Chapter 98:07,  the Minister’s comments in Stabroek News on January 2, 2010, and BCGI’s failure to meet with the Union to have the impasse resolved;

3)     To the Russian Ambassador bringing to the Russian Government attention BCGI’s Russian management violations of workers’ rights and the Laws of Guyana, and seeking its involvement in reigning in Rusal to honour and respect International labour laws and ILO covenants as well as the Laws and people of Guyana.

The GB&GWU is committed to the upholding of rights, honouring of laws and justice on behalf of its membership and shall continue to pursue these principles vigourously.  Recognition & Certification Board

Please see Letters and ERC complaint attached.

Charles Sampson

General President

GB&GWU.

 

 

 

__________________________________________________________________________________

 

Complaint to the Ethnic Relations Commission

Made by the

Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union

On January 4, 2010

The Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) brings with urgency to your attention for immediate redress the case of the predominantly African bauxite workers of Aroaima and Kwakwani employ at the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc. (BCGI) a company owned by United Company RUSAL and the Government of Guyana where race, ethnicity and political affiliations appear to be at the center of decision making affecting operations of the union, workers, their families and the communities of  Linden, Aroaima and Kwakwani for which Bauxite is the main economic pillar of support.

The seriousness of this claim is recognized after careful thought and consideration, weighting the events surrounding the negotiation for wages and working conditions resulted in an unlawful act by BCGI and the tacit support given BCGI by the Ministry and officials of the Ministry of Labour responsible for conciliating the labour dispute. 

The impasse between BCGI and GB&GWU resulted in a strike due to the company's refusal to pay increase wages demanded by the Union and the subsequent suspension and dismissal of workers, inclusive of all the union's branch leaders.  Arriving from these acts the company has taken its own decision in contravention of the Laws of Guyana to publicly announce that it is has terminated the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) and has stated it will take measures to terminate the Recognition Agreement between the two parties (BCGI and GB&GWU).

Since then workers/union members have complained that there are being coerced by representatives of the company to sign a company prepared petition to be used as an  instrument to satisfy the company's intent of denying the workers their rights to Freedom of Association, and Collective Bargaining.

The recent statement by Minister Manzoor Nadir has impacted significantly on our belief that racial and ethnic discrimination coupled with political and economic marginalization are the underpinning reasons for the inaction of the Ministry of Labour to vigourously arrest this dispute which threatens the livelihood of dozens of workers and their families who rely on them for support.

The union finds it totally unacceptable that the Minister of Labour Mr. Manzoor Nadir in his comments in Stabroek News, January 2, 2010 could state with quite an alacrity that           

a) Sugar "'accounts for over 15 percent of our foreign exchange earnings and it has critical importance to our economy.' While acknowledging the importance of bauxite to the country, Nadir noted that RUSAL is just one of several companies operating in that sector."

b) "And perhaps…we should let this festive season of goodwill take its course and hopefully both parties will exercise more generosity towards each other."

c) "Asked if the ministry had conducted an investigation to determine whether the signatures were taken fairly and not under duress, Nadir replied in the negative.  He, however, opined that since the company has over 400 workers and since most of the workers are back at work, if it was a situation of the letters being sent under duress, the Ministry would have seen more letters and signatures. 'If you have 98 percent of the workers on the job and just about 25 percent of them asking for withdrawal I want to infer…I can't say as gospel, that it may indicate that those signatures were gotten of free will,' the Minister said."

Prior to this GB&GWU as well as this nation was informed via  the media by Chief Labour Officer, Yoganand Persaud of a meeting scheduled between BCGI and GB&GWU. Said meeting never occurred even though the Union although receiving no official notice contacted the Ministry and turned up at the Ministry of Labour on December 15, 2009 for the publicly notified meeting between the Ministry, BCGI and the GB&GWU. When exposed in the media the Chief Labour Officer denied any such notice of meeting but did not refute Stabroek News’ Editor’s comments at the end of his letter to the editor which reiterated that this was indeed reported by the Chief Labour Officer.

The actions of the company and the Ministry of Labour speak to a collusion between the parties to discriminate against workers because of their race, trade union affiliation and political allegiance. The fact that it is almost two months and the Ministry has failed to take any positive initiative to engage the parties with a view of bringing about a resolution not only questions the seriousness of the Ministry in discharging its legal responsibility but highlights its partisan political interest in addressing issues pertaining to all the workers of Guyana.

The Minister of Labour from the outset took the position that the union was guilty of transgression and publicly chastised the union ignoring the rights of the workers and the BCGI breach of the laws for which it was custodian of and ought to be representing. One is left to conclude that the Minister is prepared to discriminate against African workers and the community of Linden, Aroaima and Kwakwani in favour of  the employer who coincidentally happens to be part government and therefore with a responsibility to protect the laws  and all the peoples of the land regardless of race, class, creed or political persuasion .

The Minister’s cavalier approach to the handling of the bauxite issue vis a vis the recent sugar impasse in which he states that his involvement to resolve the GuySuCo and Guyana Agriculture & General Workers Union (GAWU) dispute was influenced by economic circumstances which the bauxite issue does not share a corresponding consideration is seen as an abrogation of his responsibility as the Minister of all workers and all Guyanese.

To advance and protect the economic wellbeing of one group of workers yet as the same time taking a position to sacrifice the economic wellbeing of another highlights the blatant discrimination of which we believe race and politics are the driving forces since  the Minister of Labour is an East Indian; the Chief Labour Officer, an East Indian; the majority of workers in the sugar industry are East Indian; and the government is East Indian dominated and classified in a general sense as “Indian.”

On the converse the BCGI senior management are white Russians. The bauxite workers are primarily Africans, the GB&GWU is led by Africans and the communities dependent on the bauxite company for their livelihood are primarily Africans.  Further on the political spectrum, the governing “Indian” party has traditionally got the least votes in these communities even as recent as in the 2006 National and Regional Elections. The bauxite communities come under the Regional government (Reg. 10) which is led by the People’s National Congress a predominantly “African” based party which is the leading opposition party, and Kwakwani which was won by the Alliance For Change.

The politics of Guyana’s race relations are well known to all and leaves the Bauxite workers discrimination as a visible casualty of discrimination premised on race.

The statements and actions of the Minister of Labour, the Chief Labour Officer and the BCGI General Manager are seem in the context of being racist and we today lodge a complaint of discrimination against BCGI employees and the GB&GWU on the grounds of race.  We demand an urgent attention and a public enquiry conducted by the Ethnic Relations Commission in keeping with its impartial mandate of ensuring a fair and just society.

Appendices with primary and media reports will be presented at the hearing but the case is already available in the public domain and can be accessed from the print media.

Carlton Sinclair

President

Aroaima/Kwakwani Branch

Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union

 

 

 _________________________________________________________________

His Excellency Mr. Pavel A. Sergiev,

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation,

Embassy of the Russian Federation,

3 Public Road,

Kitty,

Georgetown,

Guyana,

South America.

January 4, 2010

Excellency, 

I would wish to bring to your attention a matter of grave concern to the workers of Guyana, and I believe it would be to you as it implicates a corporate citizen of your beloved country, which , I have been informed, the Russia Federation is a majority shareholder. I speak of the United Company RUSAL  

There exist serious transgressions of the Laws of Guyana and the rights of the workers and citizens of Guyana by RUSAL.  

The Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU) is appalled at the hostile posture taken and aggressive measures adopted by the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc's (BCGI) Russian management, doing business in Guyana as a multinational company, against its local work force in contravention of the labour laws, which are statute laws, of Guyana. To be direct, RUSAL has violated several sections of the Laws of Guyana, Trade Union Recognition Act, Chapter 98:07, notably:

"Section 23 (1) Compulsory recognition and duty to treat," which clearly states:  "When a trade union obtains a certificate of recognition for workers comprised in a bargaining unit in accordance with this Part, the employer shall recognise the union, and the union and the employer shall bargain in good faith and enter into negotiations with each other for the purpose of collective bargaining."

Equally troubling are the efforts made by RUSAL's management to force workers to work under unsafe working conditions while at the same time imposing measures to deny workers the right to be represented by the trade union of their choice, an issue that is particularly disturbing to me, as General President of the GB&GWU, but more especially a right which the great state of Russia has championed in its glorious past and undoubtedly still holds in great esteem today. 

The trade union contributes to the philosophy of one economic world where employer(s) and employee(s) operate free from fear in the creation of a just society guided by universal conventions, laws, principles and national practices. Specific attention is drawn to the International Labour Organisation core labour conventions, namely: 

- Convention 87- Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise

- Convention 98- Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining

- Convention 107- Abolition of Forced Labour

The Union sees the action of BCGI's management as a gross disrespect to Guyana's sovereignty, Guyanese workers, laws and international conventions.  These anti-trade union acts and violation of workers' rights are in contravention of the rule of law and time-honoured principles. Against this backdrop the Union expresses to the Russian government its concerns and dissatisfaction with RUSAL's activities in Guyana.

It is my hope that given the seriousness of this situation your illustrious government active intervention will find a just resolution to this problem consistent with the high principles it has always adumbrated on behalf of all the workers of the world, especially those of small underdeveloped countries as ours who have always been the victims of vicious capitalist exploitation. 

The Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union appreciates your Excellency good graces in having this matter brought to the attention of the Government of Russia and with the urgency that it deserves. 

The GB&GWU remains confident that with your Government understanding and intervention this vexatious aberration will be resolved with deserved justice to the workers we represent.

With high esteem  

 

Charles Sampson

General President

Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union

 

__________________________________________________________________

 

Mr. Yoganand PersaudRecognition & Certification Board

Secretary

Trade Union Recognition & Certification Board

c/o Ministry of Labour

82 Upper Brickdam

Georgetown

January 4, 2010

 

Secretary,

The Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union wishes to meet with the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board to discuss the following issues:

1.      The refusal of the Bauxite Company Guyana Inc. to meet with the Union to discuss matters pertaining to workers welfare in as much as there exit a legal certificate of Recognition between the parties;

2.      The company’s action of coercing members of the Union to sign a company prepared petition to request a poll with a view of de-recognizing the Union under Section 31 of the Trade Union Recognition Act, Chapter 98:07, and;

3.      In light of the public statements reported in Stabroek News, January 2, 2009 where the Minister of Labour said the Ministry has not conducted an investigation to determine whether the signatures were taken fairly and not under duress yet opined that it “may indicate that those signatures were gotten of free will.”

You would appreciate that the violations of our laws and the rights of workers are serious enough and deserving of immediate attention.

We look forward to meeting with you urgently.

Sincerely,

Leslie Gonsalves

General Secretary (ag.)

Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union

CC Justice Prem Persaud, Chairman

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