See full statement from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU)
The GAWU Oil and Gas branch through its public statements, outreaches and social media activities has continued to engage regularly with workers employed by several enterprises in the sector. The workers though employed by different companies face almost identical challenges and confront harsh measures and draconian policies. It jarred our minds back to era of the sugar plantocracy where workers were seen as expendable commodities. For the GAWU, this is a worrisome development and portends that possibly even more unfair conditions could be advanced in the future. It reminds us of the age-old adage that not all that glitters is really gold.
The Union recently engaged workers who were terminated by a well-known enterprise in the sector. Our review of the documents shared revealed to us even when they were unceremoniously shown the door seemingly attempts were made to cheat them out of their due entitlements. The GAWU has since written that entity to seek that the workers’ rights be respected and that their entitlements are properly settled. Indeed, it was disheartening enough for workers to receive the axe apparently for expressing concerns regarding their conditions of work. But it is rubbing salt in the wound to apparently shortchange them on their benefits.
We were also disturbed and astonished to recognise an enterprise telling workers on confirmation they received an increase in pay. The truth is that the workers basic pay declined though the company may argue a non-taxable allowance was added to their salary. Be that as it may, the workers basic pay went down and that is undeniable. Our Union holds that the altering of employment terms cannot be done at someone’s whims and fancies. Though workers may sign on receipt of their confirmation letters, we believe it is unholy for such sneaky measures be pursued to reduce an employee’s salary. Moreover, in the absence of proper review we do not believe that attempt to reduce an employee’s basic pay could stand.
Many workers have expressed feelings of being cheated. They shared on their recruitment they were regaled with stories of significant earnings, high quality jobs and good job prospects. They were told that big opportunities awaited them in the sector, and they could have meaningfully improved their well-being and lives. With such succulent talk, the workers said they were wooed and without hesitation took up training opportunities with the hope of making a better tomorrow for themselves and their families. Their high enthusiasm caused them to sign their contract without so much as a second glance. Alas the talk grand promises of flowing milk and honey gave way to reality. This they said it was a cold and rude awakening. It is reminiscent of the days of the indentured servants being told to come and fan sugar canes in British Guiana.
The workers pointed out while their salaries appear appropriate it is hardly compensatory for the lengthy hours of work they must endure. They were very disturbed that foreigners appeared to be getting significantly enhanced conditions compared to them though they undertake similar jobs. The workers said the pretext of foreigners’ experience hold little water for them. They pointed out that they can execute certain tasks as well as foreigners, yet they are denied equal pay. The sector’s employees we have engaged said they are puzzled as to why is it they cannot be treated more fairly. The workers could not help but wonder whether it is that the owners were out to make super profits off their efforts and sweat. The GAWU has heard unofficially that many enterprises are handsomely paid for the service they provide. Yet rather than sharing some of the bounty with their employees they apparently choose to enjoy the niceties of life while throwing a few crumbs to the workers.
The situation the oil sector workers in our country face is not new. It has happened before in the sugar industry when the owner class together with local collaborators denied workers a fair and just reward for their labour. It was a harsh period for the workers and profound change was only realised when the workers stood together to demand and win real and lasting change. Certainly, in the oil sector the workers collectivism is important if they are to win out in their just demands.
The GAWU remains in the corner of all workers. Previous and present generations of workers have struggled long and hard to overcome obstacles. Certainly, such feats are realizable once again. We encourage workers to continue to reach out to the Union. The GAWU believes its considerable experience in championing workers rights is very much needed and we remain committed to advancing the rights and conditions of the Guyanese working-class.