Sep 29, 2017
For over a decade, Rusal has been operating in Guyana. Hundreds of millions in minerals have been taken out of Linden by that company. Yet, the people of Linden largely continue to live below the average lifestyle.
This was pointed out recently by Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) Dr. David Hinds, as he drove home the fact that Guyana becoming an oil producing nation by 2020 is not a guarantee that the country will see transformation for the better.
Dr. Hinds drew the nexus between Rusal and ExxonMobil. However, he said that ExxonMobil is expected to rake in a better profit than Rusal and in this case, should be able to contribute more to the economy and create more jobs, even at the bare minimum. Nevertheless, he said that Guyana should be careful that it is not robbed of all the benefits it is supposed to get.
The political activist said, “If one were to judge from the workers’ complaints over the years, it is clear that Rusal has a bad track record as a corporate partner and investor. Its presence has not had a transformative effect on the community economically or socially.”
Dr. Hinds pointed out that Rusal employs approximately 500 workers, “so the impact is relatively small when compared to the Guymine era. Rusal seems to be more interested in firing workers rather than expanding its workforce and from all indications, wages are generally low. In fact, the company has been at constant loggerheads with the union over wages.”
The political scientist said that after more than a decade of Rusal operations, Linden is still among the most depressed communities in Guyana. He said that Rusal has also not been good at using part of its handsome profits to contribute to social development in the community.
Dr. Hinds said that Rusal has also been horrible when it comes to respecting Guyana’s labour laws. “It has for example, been disrespectful of the arbitration process—it refuses to show up for meetings. It has not treated workers and their union with the respect they deserve.”
Dr. Hinds said that Rusal has been taking advantage of Guyana’s weak bargaining power. He noted that the threat of closing operations has been used by the company to get its way.
“Guyana needs these investments; we need Rusal to expand operations, add value added products, employ more people and guarantee more revenue to the country. Our bauxite reserves are far from being exhausted. So, we need Rusal. But our people need to benefit more from these investments. We can’t have an industry operating in a vital community and it is not contributing to lifting the living standards of that community,” said Dr. Hinds.
The political scientist said that Rusal was allowed to get away with its behavior under the previous government “and while the present government has been much more aggressive in its rhetoric, not much has changed for the better.”
EXXONMOBIL ANOTHER RUSAL?
Dr. Hinds said that the Guyana government needs to be strong and ensure that ExxonMobil does not become another Rusal.
He said that given the magnitude of its investment and the demand for oil and gas, it is hard to see how ExxonMobil’s presence in Guyana’s oil sector would not affect the country positively as far as increases in revenue for the country are concerned.
However, Dr. Hinds was keen to note that “Exxon could become another Rusal in the area of respect for labour laws and for local workers.”
The University Lecturer said that foreign companies tend to see Guyanese as desperate people who are not worth much as far as dignity is concerned—“they often bring with them the social and racial biases of their home countries. We have heard stories of racially tinged behavior on the part of Rusal staff. So we have to guard against that.”
Further, Dr. Hinds said that Guyana also needs to insist that Exxon contribute some of its “takings” to help with local social sectors such as education and health and of course protection of the environment. “In other words, we should insist on some form of ‘giving back’ to the country above and beyond our share of revenue.”
Dr. Hinds said that this is an area that is not usually part of formal contracts, but should form part of a package of informal agreements.
“We can be thankful to Exxon without being timid and allowing ourselves to be bullied. At the end of the day, the oil and bauxite belongs to us. We bring to the table, something that they want and need. So we are not completely without agency and leverage,” said Hinds.