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What a tangled web the People’s Progressive Party/C (PPP/C) regime weaves when it continues to seek to deceive. This week attention is being paid not only to their double standards in treatment of bauxite vis-à-vis sugar and their workers but their disinterest in losing Guyana’s bauxite foothold in the international market. It remains a clear case of economic injustice towards a category of workers who are involved in the production of a globally viable product.
Minister of Labour Joseph Hamilton in a recent press briefing stated that the government has no interest in taking over the Bauxite Company Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) where it has a 10 percent share and RUSAL (Russia Aluminum) the remainder. The reasons he gave for the government’s position laid bare the thinking of this regime towards bauxite based on distortions and intent to discriminate against a group of workers.
Whereas Brazil produces refractory grade bauxite (RGB) it has its own uniqueness. The three countries that produce this type of bauxite are Guyana, Brazil and China with each having their own peculiarities and values which the Minister neglected to highlight to the media and society. Guyana presently supplies approximately 6.6% of RGB to the world market. The question must then be asked, why the government is allowing the Aroaima and Kwakwani mines to lie idle which would adversely impact this nation retaining or improving its supply.
The government must also answer why they seem unconcerned about Guyana losing its international foothold for a viable product even as they inject billions of dollars into the beleaguered Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) that is producing sugar at US$0.41 cents a pound and selling on the global market at US$0.13 cents, which represents a loss of US$0.28 cents. The disparity in attention and treatment of bauxite and sugar based on economics cannot withstand scrutiny.
Evidently, the government is showing bias to sustain GuySuCo, even if it means the Guyanese taxpayers are funding not only its operational costs but the taste of the European markets. Poor Guyana continues to subsidize the taste of those who are financially better off than us because according to the government the spending is necessary to address the socioeconomic well-being of sugar workers and their communities. The government must be called on to answer why isn’t the socioeconomic wellbeing of BCGI workers and their communities not equally deserving.
Apart from government’s tardiness or disinterest in operationalising the mines, similar treatment is being seen in not addressing the outstanding 11-year-old grievances through arbitration. Where BCGI remains a legal entity, it must honour its obligation under the law and the government has an obligation to make sure this happens. Government is not only part owner of BCGI but also custodian of the Constitution and Laws of Guyana. They have dual obligations and responsibilities which they are refusing to honour. There is also the issue of inaccuracy in the computation of severance payment to workers which has been placed before the Ministry of Labour for attention.
Government’s excuses that they are not interested in taking over BCGI, while not borne on facts, does not absolve the Ministry from the aforesaid obligations under the law. Let me make it very clear, the well-being of bauxite workers is of equal import to that of sugar workers. Disparity in treatment on matters where the laws, international conventions and time-honoured principles are universal and clear is discriminating against a group or individual. It matters not who that individual is, or the size of the group affected.
The hundreds of BCGI workers affected by the government refusal to enforce the laws and protect Guyana’s supply share in the global market are of equal import to the attention and investment given to sugar workers. It is also of import to remind this nation that the same PPP/C, that now wants to throw numbers at society to justify its discriminatory treatment in favour of thousands of sugar workers and against hundreds of bauxite workers, is the same party that placed thousands of bauxite workers on the breadline shortly after coming to office in 1992. Back then it was never a matter of those workers socioeconomic well-being and that of their communities, despite the numbers. Today we must not be fooled by the said government convenience of the numbers game.