Guyana Goldfields unilaterally transferring workers to contracts

Aerial view of a pit at Aurora Gold Mines

Canada-based mining company Guyana Goldfields has said there was no need for a union to represent its workers. But according to National Mine Workers Union President and founder Sherwyn Downer, internal mechanisms the company set up to deal with complaints were not working.

In an interview with Inews, Downer related that workers have instead been bringing their grievances to his union. In this case, he said workers’ complaints include concerns that they stand to lose their severance benefits, something they were entitled to by law, and that no one was hearing their concerns.

“We have hundreds of workers who would have been working with the company since exploration days. So, they have more than a decade of experience. The allegation against the company is that they are now taking steps to have these workers go on contract.

National Mine Workers Union President Sherwyn Downer

“These workers are going to lose their severance and their benefits. So what they want right now is attention to this issue. I wrote the company on the 10th of this month and they have not acknowledged my letter or said anything.”

Downer also pointed out that workers reached out to his union, even though it is not the recognised representative of the workers, rather than the Labour Department. This, he said, would indicate a lack of faith in the Government taking action. According to Downer, workers also lack faith in the mechanisms set up by the company.

“They’re saying that there’s a grievance committee up there, set up by the company … there are serious accusations against this committee, (that) it’s being stacked by loyalists to the company,” he noted.

“The workers are scared of going to Labour, because when you make a report there, Labour calls a confrontation between the employer and employee. We have a situation where it is alleged persons were fired after making reports to the Labour Department. So I think this is why they thought it best to reach out to us rather than the Ministry.”

In the letter that was addressed to Guyana Goldfields Human Resources Manager Peter Benny, Downer called for a meeting to address workers’ concerns. Efforts by this publication to make contact with Benny were futile.

Aerial view of a pit at Aurora Gold Mines

“Whether or not there are unfair labour practices in place, be mindful that in the absence of a union, this in itself reverses transparency and accountability by the company within its own general operations,” Downer wrote in his missive.

Section 21 of the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA) states that “On termination of his employment, an employee who has completed one or more years of continuous employment with an employer shall be entitled to be paid by such employer a severance or redundancy allowance equivalent to— (a) one week’s wages for such completed year of service for the first five years including the entitlement year; (b) two weeks’ wages for each completed year of service after the fifth year and up to the tenth year; (c) three weeks wages for each completed year of service in excess of ten years up to a maximum of fifty-two weeks.”