Sunday, February 5, 2023

Natural Resources Minister warns companies not to lowball Guyanese workforce

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Guyana’s Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat, said companies involved in the extractives sector must remove disparities in the treatment of local and expatriate workers, when it comes to pay and occupational health and safety (OHS). He said too, that they have a responsibility to train Guyanese so that they advance to more senior and/or technical positions.

“You are aware that our Local Content Legislation is now in place. In most, if not all, of our past contracts, there are clauses that address foreign-owned companies, the training of its local workforce to meet international standards and upward mobility of staff, and due diligence to the environment,” Mr. Bharrat told a Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) conference last week in Georgetown.

He said when the government gave favourable incentives and tax breaks to companies, it was done with the understanding that they would train locals to be able to mobilise and advance to more senior positions and specialties within their organisations.

He said there was also an expectation that companies would provide adequate health and safety equipment for safe working conditions, and that they would institute work to repair damage to the environment following extraction.

The latter expectation has a lot to do with the miners working in lesser populated hinterland areas.

Mr. Bharrat has responsibility for oil and gas, mining and forestry.

“While companies have capitalized on the incentives and tax breaks, they have generally neglected to return the favour,” he said.

Mr. Bharrat reinforced the government’s expectation of professional advancement for Guyanese, noting that though the country was previously unable to provide its people with requisite training needed to perform at advanced levels in the workforce, that is changing.

“We expect that our people will no longer be paid minimum wages or less than their foreign counterparts,” he said. “The government will no longer accept unequal pay for equal work, or substandard conditions of workspace for our locals… The Government of Guyana has embarked on a systematic programme of equipping all Guyanese people with the requisite skills to function at high-level jobs within the various sectors.”

He reminded that the government awarded 6,000 scholarships to Guyanese across the country last year. Considering this and other efforts to upskill the Guyanese population, Mr. Bharrat stopped short of saying that government no longer needs to give extremely generous incentives. He said that the new dispensation will be reflected in the terms of new contracts.

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