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…as several employees fired after complaining about salary, non-payment of overtime
By Lisa Hamilton
Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis is contending that the Guyana Shore Base Inc (GYSBI) wrongfully fired a group of workers who recently complained to the media about their salary based on the company’s non-existent claim of contractual confidentiality. He has now called on the company to reinstate the workers, noting that it has acted contrary to Guyana’s labour laws.
In July, Kaieteur News highlighted the concerns of some of GYSBI’s workers who stated that they were being paid less than expatriates for the same work. Some of the workers also referenced receiving no overtime payment and the non-receipt of a salary increase following their three-month probation period. Not long after the article was published, the workers were terminated by GYSBI.
One of the termination letters seen by the Village Voice News gave no clear reason for termination, save to highlight: “The Company wishes to remind you that the confidentiality provisions of your Agreement survive your tenure.” The letter instructed the worker — recipient of the letter seen — to return all company property while payment for accrued leave, non-tax allowance and payment in lieu of notice was given.
The fact that the workers who spoke out were fired was then highlighted in the media which prompted GYSBI to release a statement on July 20, 2021. The Company labelled “scandalous and inaccurate” the media reports and stated that the articles published were written with the intention to “sensationalize and create stress”. “We are an equal opportunity employer, with a very diverse workforce, and no worker is treated unfairly or differently. All statutory payments are remitted to the employee, and the employee is made aware of these upon starting their employment (which they also acknowledge when signing their onboarding contract), including any adjustments in compensation,” the company stated, adding: “GYSBI does not promise an increase in salary after the probationary period of employment. The three months of probation is required to assess the employee’s suitability in the position he/she has been employed for and whether or not additional skills or training are required.”
IN BREACH OF LABOUR LAWS
However, in a letter to GYSBI on July 23, 2021, seen by the Village Voice News, Lewis outlined where GYSBI ignored the real matters at hand. He pointed out that the company’s contract with workers does not prohibit them from discussing their salary with another person or entity and therefore the firing of the workers was done without just cause. Lewis said that the GTUC carefully combed GYSBI’s contractual ‘Private and Confidential’ document and found no such restrictions.
“Nowhere in said ‘Private and Confidential’ document is it stated the worker should not discuss his/her remuneration and conditions of work with another or is said action considered among the reasons for termination as outlined in the ‘Notice of Termination’ section. That expectation is alien to Guyana and not prescribed in any of the Laws of Guyana. Thus, local labour cannot be held accountable to an expectation alien to Guyana in culture and/or law. Nor should the affected workers’ services be terminated under any such ‘clause’ imagined, implied or expressed. Thus, GYSBI is being called on to reinstate these workers,” Lewis stated.
The letter was sent to GYSBI’s Human Resource Manager, Sheldon Hazelwood and named one of the workers but also represented all others terminated under the specific circumstance.
Furthermore, GTUC General Secretary noted that the company also breached labour laws in its ‘Basic Hours’ of work as indicated in the company’s ‘Policies and Procedures’. It states: “The Employee’s required hours of work are 12 hours per day. To fulfil your required hours of work per week, you will be required to work 7 days during each week as specified by management from 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. inclusive of weekends and public holidays. You will be required to sign the company’s daily time book.”
However, it was pointed out that Guyana’s labour laws indicate that workers should be paid overtime (time and a half) for work in excess of eight hours per day; workers should be paid (premium hours) for work on Sunday; workers are required to work eight hours per day and five days a week, and workers should be paid premium hours for working on public holidays.
Lewis said that the concerns will be forwarded to the Ministry of Labour for an investigation into the company’s practices to ensure compliance with Guyana laws and industrial practices.
He added: “The management would agree that no employer, foreign or local, should be allowed to transgress the rights of Guyanese workers and violate the Constitution and Laws of Guyana. Such does not augur well for fostering a harmonious industrial environment and is injurious to the development of both the employer and employee. GTUC looks forward to the extant issues being treated with urgency given their deserving seriousness.”
LARGE GUYANESE WORKFORCE
In its July 20, 2021 letter, GYSBI used the opportunity to disclose that out of its 432 employees, 25 persons or 6 percent are expat employees. Meanwhile, the remaining 94 percent of the company’s workforce are Guyanese, with Guyanese holding many key senior management positions. “The expat employees who work for GYSBI are individuals who would have spent many years working in the oil and gas industry in many countries across the world and are only hired when speciality skills or experience are contractually or legally required. Expats bring their international experiences which are used to train locals, transfer skills and technology and more importantly, transfer international standards to Guyana’s fledgling oil and gas industry,” GYSBI explained.
Furthermore, it was highlighted that within GYSBI, Guyanese workforce work on a tiered pay structure. Employees first come in at a standard salary, which is benchmarked against the industry average. Moving forward, the Company said that it is expanding its operations and its facilities and plans to increase its Guyanese employees to over 600 within the next two years.