Bauxite unions want talks with shortlisted firms - GB&GWU
By Gwen Evelyn
August 8, 1999
PRESIDENT of the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union, Mr. Charles Sampson, wants the country's bauxite unions to have talks with firms shortlisted for the privatisation of Guyana's two bauxite mining companies.
Speaking at a press conference Friday, Sampson said that the unions want to hear for themselves what the investors have to offer the bauxite communities and ensure that their (workers') wellbeing is assured.
But Sampson claims that the Privatisation Unit is not keen on having the unions meet with the investors.
Sampson said that the firms shortlisted for the Berbice Mining Enterprise (BERMINE) and the Linden Mining Enterprise (LINMINE) are, however, willing to speak with the unions.
He stressed that if the unions are to sell privatisation to the workers, the former must know everything there is to know. Sampson added that the investors will have dialogue with the unions despite the position of the Privatisation Unit.
Others represented at the press conference were the National Mining and General Workers' Union (NM&GWU) and the Guyana Mines, Metal and General Workers' Union (GMM&GWU).
Those shortlisted for the privatisation process are: Alcoa World Alumina; Billiton; a consortium of Morrison Knudsen, Harbison Walker, Texas Ohio Energy and Possehl and RASC2000.
The Government has determined that the purchase of a 60 per cent interest in LINMINE by an investor will provide the company with the capital and managerial skills it requires to rehabilitate, modernise and expand their operations to competitively strive in the international bauxite market, a document said.
Government proposes to set aside one quarter of its shareholding (10 per cent of a new company to be formed) for acquisition by employees and to sell all or substantially all of its remaining shares to the Guyana public over the next few years, the document said.
Union leader Sampson noted that the Government can go ahead and privatise. However, he added, if this is done without consultation with the union, there will be results.
"You are going to see what will happen," he said, adding that the bauxite unions do not operate like other parts of the country.
"We are serious people," he warned.
Consultation will help determine whether the new companies will operate in the interest of the people.
One of the concerns of the unions is the continual deterioration in the quality of life of bauxite mining communities, especially Linden and Kwakwani.
Observing that Linden is in a sad state, Sampson said that everything has declined due to a reverse in the bauxite fortunes. The roads are bad, water is poor and unemployment is 50 per cent of the town's working population. Morale is very low and sometimes people are not certain that they will be paid when they go to change cheques at the bank.
"Everything has gone to the dogs ... We need to start building Linden again," Sampson said.
"It is the assessment of the unions representing bauxite workers that the continual deterioration in the quality of life in Linden and Kwakwani and the consequential hardships being faced by bauxite workers and their families is a function of chronic official neglect. Both communities ... are ripe for social explosion," he said.
This is why the union is serious about the privatisation process, Sampson said, explaining that whoever takes over the bauxite operations will have to look at the community's wellbeing and not just concentrate on making a profit.
Any attempt at privatisation of either Linmine or Bermine which fails to take full account of its impact on the workers and the communities will be doomed to failure, Sampson predicted.
The unions are also concerned about the protracted and unacceptable delay in the payment of salary increases and merit increments for 1999 to workers at LINMINE and BERMINE.
Several weeks ago, the board of Bermine agreed to the implementation of a nine per cent across the board salary increase and merit increment payments of up to three per cent for workers in the company. The Minister of Finance, however, vetoed the board's decision, Sampson said.
A privatisation seminar was held in Georgetown, Thursday to brief investors on the prospects of the two main bauxite entities. Negotiations will start next month after the preferred investor for each entity is selected. The deal is expected to be completed by October or November.
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