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…unions call on government to address situation
Guyanese are being bypassed for jobs within the oil and gas sector and are also being underpaid in cases when they do land employment, two of the country’s major trade unions have charged.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) in its latest statement on the matter said that oil companies operating here are giving foreigners first preference for jobs. Back in May, the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) had observed that workers were also being underpaid, exploited and dismissed without cause.
In its statement on Friday the GAWU said its Oil and Gas Branch, through regular interaction with workers of the oil sector was simply aghast to learn of the level of foreign involvement to the detriment of our own Guyanese. “While almost in a knee-jerk fashion it is said that Guyanese lack qualification, skill, and experience to undertake certain tasks in an effort to justify expatriate labour, we have learnt that some firms have employed foreign labour for tasks which Guyanese can undertake,” GAWU said. The union noted that it learnt a well-known foreign company has recruited foreign nationals as drivers, mechanics, and other trades. Another firm has employed foreigners to undertake labouring tasks. While another has imported labour to perform the tasks of artisans. “In all instances, we believe, Guyanese possess the requisite skills and experience but are being sidelined in favour of foreigners.”
The union alluded to statements made recently by Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, Deodat Indar that displaced and highly competent workers from the sugar industry are being able to take up employment in the burgeoning oil sector. “Apart from the taking the jobs of locals, the foreigners, we understand, are receiving conditions-of-employment that are superior to locals. This is patently discriminatory, and we consider disrespectful to Guyanese.”
Additionally, GAWU said foreign workers are reportedly benefitting from housing, subsistence, and other allowances while our Guyanese brothers and sisters receive nothing of the sort. “Worse yet it appears that many of the foreigners engaged have not received permission to work in Guyana yet are allowed employment without even paying income taxes to the State. We are unaware of whether immigration officials are aware of such developments though locals shared with us that, it appeared, these companies operate with impunity and no fear of repercussion,” the union stated.
According to GAWU as the Government actively is addressing the enactment of Local Content legislation which seeks to speak to Guyanese involvement in the sector, “this is a matter, we believe, that requires urgent attention. Our Union was heartened to have been asked to share its view on some aspects of the draft legislation. We have communicated our views to the Ministry of Natural Resources as we expressed our position on certain concerns. We are hopeful that our submission can be taken on board. The GAWU is highly supportive of local content. We contend, however, that local content cannot be a buzzworthy term, but it must have genuine and real meaning. We are of the firm view that local content legislation, policies and practices must seek to create decent jobs for Guyanese foremostly and for our people to enjoy the fruits of the sector and the benefits of our patrimony.”
Back in May while addressing a Labour Day gathering at the Critchlow Labour College the GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis had said that workers in Guyana’s Oil and Gas Sector are being exploited. “It is disheartening what is happening in the foreign-owned Oil and Gas Sector…In this sector, exploitation of workers is rampant,” the veteran trade unionist told those present, as he urged Guyanese not to be bystanders to acts of transgression and violation. In an attempt to solidify his contention, Lewis submitted that workers in the Oil and Gas Sector are being arbitrarily dismissed, though not singling out any specific company, he said
a worker questions the conditions under which he is working, the employer retaliates by not recalling that worker after he would have gone on turnaround. In addition to this transgression to the working class and family, Guyanese workers are not enjoying equal pay for equal work to their foreign counterparts,” Lewis explained.
Lewis posited that while there maybe be limitation within the Petroleum Contract, the Irfaan Ali Administration ought to do much more in the areas of workers’ protection and advancement. “So far, they have failed to work with the Opposition and the Trade Unions to conceptualise and introduce laws, policies and programmes to secure the welfare of the workers of Guyana. The People’s Progressive Party/Civic seems to be picking up from where they left off; and the Ali regime will offer no new hope to these Guyanese Labour,” the trade unionist contended. He said the abuse of workers in the Oil and Gas Sector is nothing new and must be immediately addressed by the PPP/C Administration. “The contempt Guyanese workers are being subjected to in the oil and gas sector started more than a decade ago in the Bauxite Company Guyana Incorporated (BCCI). It was the PPP/C Government [that] first aided and abetted the RUSAL management transgressing workers’ rights and violating Guyana laws. They have allowed a foreign company to make bauxite workers second class citizens in their own land. Now this lawlessness has spread to the oil sector,” Lewis said. It was also submitted that while the PPP/C, in opposition, condemned the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Administration for agreeing and signing a contract considered to be lopsided by the citizenry, now in Government, it is refusing to renegotiate the very contract. Lewis said this is nothing but hypocrisy.
During his address at his campaign launch for the leadership of the PNCR, Opposition Leader, Joseph Harmon also raised concerns about Guyanese not benefiting from the oil industry. Harmon said despite the many oild finds, citizens are not buoyed. He said there is no euphoria from Guyanese and this is because they have not seen any tangible benefits coming their way. Harmon also expressed disappointment that an ExxonMobil Report on its operations in Guyana has not been provided to the Office of the Leader of the Opposition though numerous requests were made. He said the Opposition will not tolerate such behaviour from ExxonMobil or any other foreign company operating in Guyana.
Back in August this year ExxonMobil Guyana had announced that the company and its contractors have achieved continued growth in capacity building and opportunities for Guyanese during the first half of 2021 despite the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said as of June 2021, 2,865 Guyanese were supporting the company’s overall activities, representing 53% of the total workforce. According to ExxonMobil, the Guyanese workforce grew by 38% to 2,865 at the end of June 2021 up from 2,070 in June 2020 – and includes 568 women. “More than 82,000 hours of training were provided to Guyanese staff working on ExxonMobil Guyana activities, over 85% of which were in Professional, Technical and Craft, and Trade training areas,” The company said in a statement.
Additionally, the company said during the first half of 2021, combined with its contractors, nearly GY$19B was spent – with more than 750 Guyanese vendors of goods and services ranging from foodstuff to engineering benefiting. “This has generated, either directly or indirectly, an economic impact of GY $23.1B. Since 2015, a total of GY$96.4 billion has been spent directly with Guyanese suppliers.
Outreach to local businesses continued through the Centre for Local Business Development with 141 electronic tender notifications being issued to over 3,000 Guyanese companies and mentoring seven Guyanese companies to be compliant in ISO9001,” The company further stated.
ExxonMobil Guyana President, Mr. Alistair Routledge, has reaffirmed the company’s commitment to working collaboratively with the government to support the development of a framework that manages local content in a realistic and sustainable way. “We are proud to have been able to deliver these local content figures which are a reflection of tangible progress. Further growth is expected, and ExxonMobil will continue to work with Guyanese businesses to build local content together.” The release quoted the local Exxon head as saying.