Workers’ rights cannot be put into abeyance
Dear Editor, Reference is being made to Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman’s comments in articles, “Gov’t looking at ‘replacement’ for Rusal - Trotman” and “Local Rusal workers in limbo” (SN: 3rd October and 24th September 2018, respectively). Attention is being paid to two germane issues, namely, 1) the Task Force (TF) which was set up in April to address how Oldendorff and the Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) would be impacted upon based on the United States’ sanctions of RUSAL, the majority shareholder in BCGI; and 2) the industrial relations climate in the two agencies.
The first meeting of the TF was addressed by Minister Trotman who never gave the committee Terms of Reference (ToRs) to guide its work. As such, the committee developed its ToRs based on interaction with the affected workers and stakeholders. That ToR addressed two critical areas, namely, a) current workers/employer relationship at the two companies; and b) should sanctions be fully imposed, the alternative route government must examine for implementation.
An Interim Report was submitted based on Item (a), which made proposals on how government can address the current workers/management relationship. Last Wednesday (3rd October), the nation learnt that Cabinet took a decision to hold the recommendations/proposals, though fully aware that the industrial relations climate in Oldendorff and BCGI, is acrimonious. It is at the stage where there exists no negotiation for the realisation of Collective Labour Agreements, though trade unions have bargaining rights in both companies.
In fact, the TF, since the resignation in July of its head Minister Simona Broomes, has not met even as information is gleaned from the media that Lance Carberry has been appointed its new head. This is another disturbing development. For while none can question Carberry’s knowledge and competence about bauxite, he is not operating at the level of day-to-day decision making as Broomes, thereby not having the clout and authority as a minister to effect decisive action on issues existing in the ToRs.
Importantly to note, there exists a letter sent to BCGI management by Minister Trotman, dated 20th December 2017, which, in part, reads: “We [the government] congratulate the company and its workers on their mutually satisfying relationship, and urge both parties to continue working in harmony to achieve future successes. Please note that as a government, we believe in workers’ right to representation and as such we are maintaining [an] arm’s length approach to union matters.”
Minister Trotman is fully aware of the acrimonious climate at BCGI, where for nine years, management has refused to engage the Guyana Bauxite & General Workers Union (GB&GWU), the workers’ representative. As an attorney-at-law by training, minister of government and lawmaker, he knows the importance of words and the significance of his penmanship. Notably, he was the AFC lead speaker on the No-confidence Parliamentary Motion against PPP/C Minister of Labour Manzoor Nadir, brought by the Opposition under the stewardship of Robert Corbin. Though the Coalition inherited the BCGI problem, it campaigned to correct it should it secure office, but continues to ignore same by refusing to enforce the Constitution and Laws of Guyana.
It was the decision of the TF that as the committee continues its work, to examine Item (b). Now society is being advised that government has put the Interim Report on pause, which, in effect, means it will do nothing, as it adopts a wait-and-see approach, hoping for the best, while making another promise to look at a ‘replacement’ for RUSAL. The failure to plan is a deliberate act of preparing to fail.
Instructive too, is that Minister Trotman in the 24th September article, stated that the ToRs, which guided the Interim Report, was to be placed before Cabinet for determination. In effect, the Minister is making
public admittance to a failure on his part in discharging his duty of establishing a TF with ToRs. In the 3rd October article, he came back and said that Cabinet has taken a decision to put the Interim Report that emanated from the TF, in abeyance. What manner of governance and leadership are we the people witnessing and being subject to?
Workers/citizens’ rights and respecting of the Law cannot be put into abeyance. These have to be respected and enforced every single day of our lives and government continues to fail us in the discharge of their duty and responsibility. The words in Minister Trotman’s letter (20th December 2017) pledging to BCGI, government’s hands-off approach to what is happening in the company, makes our reality as citizens, relying on its government to protect us, even more frightening. The APNU+AFC administration, every step of the way, has made workers sacrificial lambs in this country. Trotman’s tenacity in holding Nadir accountable for not acting, is today being matched by inaction and collusion with foreign nationals to violate the laws and transgress workers/citizens’ rights. Yours faithfully, Lincoln Lewis