Bauxite workers laid off by Omai pessimistic about a September restartadmin
Workers in Linden laid off by Omai Bauxite Mining Inc (OBMI) for two months because of the competition from cheap bauxite produced by China are pessimistic about the chances of the company restarting operations in September and consequently of rehiring them.
News that the company was seeking investors to buy into operations was not a cause for optimism as far as the workers were concerned. They still believe that OBMI would not be in a position to rehire them in September as promised.
The workers, some 541 of them, were sent home from July 1 for an initial period of two months, to be taken on again if and when market forces made it possible for operations to recommence.
But in a statement to this newspaper yesterday, Peter Benny, the company’s Industrial Relations Manager, said that OMBI was set to recommence its operations and that eventually all of the workers would be rehired. He said that the company was still in production although it was only producing chemical grade bauxite at the moment. Production of Refractory ‘A’ super-calcined (RASC) bauxite had been halted and up to June the company had a stockpile of about 50,000 tonnes of RASC.
He said that given its current customers, the company was on target to restart production of RASC in September, by which time the stockpile of the product would have been depleted. According to Benny, the company was sticking to its sales schedule which would justify the September restart.
Since taking over 70% of the Linden bauxite operations in September 2004, Cambior has invested US$22M in refurbishing one kiln and importing mining equipment. Phase two of the investment would have seen Omai refurbishing another kiln and investments in a new crushing and washing plant which would have raised the output to 400,000 tonnes of RASC.
During that time, Cambior executive Rejean Gourde had said that the financiers were happy with the numbers that the company had generated. Phase two was estimated to be completed by the end of this year and would have placed Omai in a good position to take advantage of the strong demand for RASC.
At about midday on Thursday this reporter saw a barge carrying three large Caterpillar trucks and a front-end loader being towed down the river. Seeing this residents along the river banks exclaimed that the company was indeed shutting down for good, pointing as well to the recent media reports about the company offering its assets for sale.
Asked about the barge in the river, Benny said that with the possible restart of gold-mining operations at Omai, equipment not in use was being transferred.
Stabroek News spoke to some of the former workers of OBMI, one of whom, Ivelaw Smith said that he had worked with the Linmine from August 1, 2003 as a plant operator. He had a wife and three children and being laid off from the company had affected him. “We came off with just the last few days’ salaryã¢â‚¬Â¦ I have to work planting cash crops in my spare time,” he said, adding that farming could not compensate for the loss of employment.
He said that the full-time job he had lost was what paid the bills. Smith too was not confident that the company’s operations would restart in September, but he did say that the government-sponsored computer training would help him in his farming and other endeavours. “This is a start for me,” he said, adding that he was also a trained welder with a certificate from the Linden Technical Institute.
Another worker, 44-year-old Eton Stewart of Amelia’s Ward, Linden, said that he did not feel the company would be ready to restart its operations come September. He had worked as a millwright and was one of those who had come over from Omai Gold Mines Limited (OGML) when the new company took over from Linmine. “It’s really tough at this timeã¢â‚¬Â¦I have three children in high school and two in primary school. I am just trusting God for the health and strength,” he said. At the moment he had no other job. “I am a mechanic but I also have other skills. I am willing to do other jobs,” he told this newspaper.
As for the computer training, he said that it had motivated him to acquire a computer to use at home, having been exposed to its many uses and benefits.
Stewart said that the company should have offered a more attractive benefit package for the laid-off workers. He lauded the assistance that the government had provided, and said he and others had submitted the names and ages of their children for school uniforms.
Ashford Luke, 26, Also of Amelia’s Ward, told this newspaper that so far he was managing since he didn’t have too many people dependent on him. He had been a kiln assistant for about a year with the company and was currently doing part-time vulcanising work in addition to attending the computer classes. But though the wages he now earned were nowhere near the equivalent of his take-home pay at OBMI, he still was managing to pay the bills.
Luke was of the view that the shutdown was going to run until the end of the year and like the others, didn’t see operations restarting in September. He said that he might be inclined to look for another permanent job and hope that the company he used to work for picked up again.
One of the lecturers of the computer course, Ray De Clou, said that the workers were very receptive to the lessons and were finding them applicable in their lives. He himself was one of the workers who had been laid off, having come across from OGML when the new company took over from Linmine. “I was a maintenance shift planner for a little over a year at OBMI. I had worked with OGML since 1990,” he said. De Clou said that the lay-off had not involved a major economic adjustment on his part, since he had a thriving business selling computer parts.
As for the restart of OBMI’s operations producing RASC, De Clou said that he was not so sure whether this would happen by September. “I heard a lot of rumours about the company selling outã¢â‚¬Â¦there are always ways of the company improving and increasing its productionã¢â‚¬Â¦If they get good markets for the products then everything will follow,” he said.
Desmond Vigilance told Stabroek News that most of the employees were in doubt about OBMI’s prospects. He said that they were not getting the kind of information necessary to make a judgement and this was making people sceptical. According to Vigilance, the President’s undertaking that he would revisit the community to make a reassessment of the situation in two months’ time as well as reports referring to the company’s assets being put up for sale all added to the ambivalence about the situation.
Vigilance, 52, said that the lay-off had affected him a great deal. “My plans for the year with my family have been put off,” he said.
He was finding the computer course useful and recognised that it was essential in life. But he asked that some programme be put in place to assist persons in purchasing computers on concessionary terms.
Speaking to this newspaper from his office on Thursday, Regional Chairman of Region Ten Mortimer Mingo said that he, like the employees of the company, was very concerned about what was taking place in the bauxite industry. He said that Omai’s entry into the industry was considered by most people a good development in terms of sustainability, and that it would have guaranteed some semblance of permanent employment.
The company had initially announced that it would have been employing 700 people in the rehabilitation phase and at the end of two years employing some 400 people in the industry. Mingo said that while that in itself would not have addressed unemployment in Linden it would have brought some alleviation to the community.
With the closure of major operations at the Linden mine, Mingo said, businesses were suffering, since the town depended largely on the industry employing people.
The Regional Chairman went on to say that people had questioned the industrial relations practices of the company in that not many of its employees had been on the permanent establishment. He said that with the advent of the new company, all of the workers had been retrenched and paid their necessary benefits by the government, and as a consequence the bauxite pension plan had folded.
Mingo did not believe that the reasons put forward for the two-month closure ‘held water,’ since China had always been a competitor in the industry. And he said that in spite of this, both Guymine and later Linmine had sold bauxite. He did, however, make mention of high oil prices commenting that as much as this had been a factor, poor marketing on the company’s part had also been to blame for the shut-down of the industry.