Based on his observations, Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo is convinced that the Government is not serious about finding a solution to the labour issues involving the Russian controlled Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI). In fact, he thinks the government is simply incapable of representing anyone’s interest.
He made these and other statements at a press conference held earlier today at his Church Street Office.
There, Jagdeo was asked by the media to say if he was pleased with how the Government was handling the RUSAL issue. A few weeks ago, the foreign company laid off 61 workers who protested its one percent pay increase. This week, it sent home 30 more without pay due to the closure of certain departments.
Jagdeo’s response, however, indicated that he was thoroughly disappointed. The Opposition Leader said that the government has politicised the issue since Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally seems, to be taking journalists at every meeting with RUSAL officials for a media show.
He said, “Ali goes to a meeting and takes the entire media but the workers’ interest must be protected by the government. It can’t be a media show. We don’t know what RUSAL told them. RUSAL sent their representatives and they had private discussions with the government.” The Opposition Leader also added that he has not received a brief on the discussions between RUSAL and the Government. He said that the Natural Resources Minister, Raphael Trotman has the power to make this possible.
The PPP General Secretary also highlighted that it is not only foreign companies which have a poor track record in industrial relations, but the government too. In this regard, he reminded that the government callously laid off over 7,000 workers in the sugar industry, was taken to court by workers of the Wales Estate so that they could get their severance, and put 1972 Amerindians on the breadline.
In the same breath, Jagdeo took a swipe at the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), which he accused of being silent on the aforementioned matters. He said, too, that the GTUC was even silent when several workers were laid off by Barama Company Limited. His criticism of the GTUC follows a statement the body made, calling on him to condemn the dismissal of the striking workers.
But Jagdeo made it clear that he will not be pandering to GTUC’s calls. He said that the government has found itself in a bind and they have to fix it on its own. The PPP will not be dragged into it, he said.
Further to this, the Opposition Leader was challenged to say what he or his party has done to assist the government on the issue, whether it be through lending advice or otherwise. Jagdeo was quick to note however that the government does not make use of the Opposition’s counsel. He insisted nonetheless that foreign companies must respect the nation’s workers and the labour laws.
Jagdeo said, “We are going to reach out to the workers but not to this government because they are just not interested in addressing this matter. They can’t defend anyone’s interest. They are incapable and incompetent.”