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The money in the national coffers belong to every, single Guyanese. It matters not what you look like, your geographic location, where you work, whether you voted or not, or who you voted for. We are all Guyanese, protected by the same Constitution and Laws of Guyana. We are all entitled to political, social and economic justice, and where we feel any or all are threatened, it is our right to voice our concerns and agitate for corrective actions.
The four-month-old Irfaan Ali administration is on a collision path with those employed in the public sector and some companies owned by the state. The tendency of successive PPP/C governments to not treat equally with these workers because an ethnic group dominates and this group is perceived as supporters of the opposition, is discriminatory and transgresses the right of the workers to freedom of association.
From the outset the administration has decided that regardless of what the economic circumstances are as it relates to the sugar industry, they will reopen the closed sugar estates as a priority to create jobs for those who they see as their supporters. In principle nothing is wrong in considering the socio-economic plight of a people. Where this principle can no longer stand is when it is applied to some and not all who are experiencing same or similar conditions.
Over the years the PPP/C government has constantly put economic and social programmes in place to stifle, and if possible, destroy the economic ability and reliance of the African community. The Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) is a case in point. The Government of Guyana is part owner but is using its authority to ignore the workers quest to settle outstanding grievances through compulsory arbitration under the law, provide economic relief in the interim and re-open the operations. By failing to do so they are promoting economic injustice in a workforce that is dominated by one ethnic group.
The closure of BCGI has not taken equally prominence to re-opening of Rose Hall, Enmore, La Bonne Intention and Wales estates. Last Monday, head of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Sasenarine Singh, informed this nation the government multi-billion dollars investment to re-open the closed estates have so far resulted in 690 sugar workers being rehired. As a trade unionist, with abiding interest in full employment, I am heartened by the fact that 690 workers were afforded the opportunity to come off the breadline. This augurs well for those workers, their families, and the communities within which they reside. As recognition is given to this achievement in like manner it must be given to areas where this is yet to be achieved.
Government is once again called on to make a similar investment in BCGI that once employed 400 workers. The socio-economic wellbeing of these workers cannot be of lesser importance than that of sugar workers. And whereas it is understood the sugar workers are considered supporters of the PPP/C, bauxite workers who are not so considered are no less deserving under the laws.
The Ali government took over the reins of government when the BCGI grievances were at the arbitration stage. Theirs is the responsibility, where the government is not only part owner of the company but custodian of the Laws and Constitution of Guyana, to enforce arbitration. In the meantime, the government has a moral duty to consider the socio-economic wellbeing of the workers who have been displaced because the Russian management chose to shutter the company rather than respect the nation’s sovereignty. BCGI workers are deserving of some form of alleviation package, monetary and/or otherwise, from the Government who also owns the company.
The issue to re-open closed sugar estates was not guided by pure economic but by serious social considerations. The same must be applied at BCGI that is operating in a location where there is minimal opportunity for alternative employment at this juncture, though it must be said bauxite remains competitive in the international market. Further evidence of this is the recent opening of First Bauxite Company in the Upper Demerara/Upper Essequibo region and recent announcement by the Minister of Natural Resources that another bauxite operation will be opened in the Upper Berbice/Upper Corentyne location. Bauxite is not dead. Bauxite is alive and remains competitive.
As the government over the years relied on the Consolidated Fund to sustain GuySuCo, BCGI could also benefit from similar treatment in the meanwhile. The government could re-open the operations at Aroaima and Kwakwani. The skills are already there and will not take much from the Consolidated Fund to resuscitate the operations under the leadership of a competent Guyanese team. Also, workers have repeatedly communicated an interest to buy into the company should RUSAL leave.
And with regards to the government treatment of the public servants, the agreement as it relates to Wages and Salaries came to an end on 31st December 2019. Public servants are entitled to wage and salary increase for 2020. Government cannot arbitrarily impose a two- weeks bonus and call it that. They must honour the right to Collective Bargaining where trade unions exist. This is another economic injustice that must not be countenanced by the workers and citizens. There can be no peace and harmony in the presence of injustice.
What goes for sugar workers must also go for BCGI workers and public sector workers. These workers have two things in common- the Government of Guyana has a say in their employment and they are all Guyanese. The practice of economic injustice, regardless of which government does it, is wrong and we must call it for what it is. Injustice is a threat to human rights and dignity, it is a threat to national peace and harmony.