Some seven months after it dismissed hundreds of employees and abruptly ended its operations in Guyana, the Russian Aluminum company (RUSAL) is now in talks with the new PPP/C Government on returning to Guyana.
In an interview with this publication, Natural Resources Minister Vickram Bharrat confirmed that negotiations are ongoing with RUSAL.
He said the Russian company has to make a formal submission to the Government on their requirements to restart the operation.
“They were supposed to make a formal submission to us, as to what is needed to restart the operation and a timeframe to do so, so that we can have a second discussion and move the process forward. So, we’re waiting [for] that submission formally,” Bharrat said.
The Minister noted that the company has hinted that it wants Government’s assistance in dredging the Berbice River.
Meanwhile, when it comes to workers’ rights, Bharrat has made it clear that the Government will be expecting RUSAL to pay fair wages, should they return.
“During the talks, it was hinted that they would like us to dredge the Berbice River and assist in the mine (which is actually flooded). But no formal request was made to us,” Minister Bharrat explained.
“We expect that workers’ rights must be protected, people are paid a fair wage, conditions in health and safety regulations, everything must be in place. Our intention is to get the workers back to work, but not to compromise on anything,” the Minister also said.
RUSAL’s Bauxite Company of Guyana Incorporated (BCGI) subsidiary left Guyana in February of 2020, amid industrial unrest from their workers.
In leaving, the firm terminated 326 employees in the process. Workers had been striking for some time over pay-related issues, going so far as to block the Berbice River.
Prior to their decision to leave, BCGI was facing difficulties that included low production. In addition, when the company had initially announced its decision to terminate workers, it stated that it was experiencing difficulties after Government ended its duty-free arrangement for its fuel.
However, following the decision to lay-off employees, workers and residents blocked the section of the Berbice River utilised by the Aroaima-based company. This further compounded the company’s problems.
A letter from the company dated January 29, 2020, indicated that the company was forced to further reduce operations and to lay-off employees owing to adverse operating circumstances including shipment interruption because of the blockage of the Berbice River.
In fact, other Private Sector companies operating in the area were also forced to send home their workers as a result of the blockage hindering their operations to move materials up and down the Berbice River. When the police arrived to remove the blockade from the river, they were faced with resistance from the workers and their families.
The former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government was severely criticised for its handling of the issue and its failure to protect the interests of the hundreds of bauxite workers who were left jobless following the company’s decision to pull the plug on its operations.