Workers at Guayana’s Basic Industries Resign en Masse

Photo: Noticiero Digital

Las industrias básicas, Ciudad Guayana’s basic industries, used to be the backbone of the city’s economy. Scoring a job there used to be a privilege. Now they can’t keep the workers because they don’t pay enough to eat.

“My department is getting empty” a worker at Bauxilum said to me. “Even chavistas who used to say they would never leave, are leaving.”

Bauxilum (which converts bauxite into alumina) hasn’t been working for months. It’s not only that they don’t have raw materials to work with, or that the plant has fallen apart for lack of maintenance; now a gazillion workers are deserting.

Their treasury department is so understaffed that they have three people doing the work of 15. Employees don’t resign, they go on vacation and never come back, so they can return to their jobs in case they don’t do well abroad.

“It’s fashionable now, and everyone speaks about it as if it’s normal,” the source at Bauxilum tells me.

It’s not only that they don’t have raw materials to work with, or that the plant has fallen apart for lack of maintenance; now a gazillion workers are deserting.

Another trick is to ask for a leave of absence and extend it by submitting (often falsified) medical reports. This is so common that the company has gotten really strict. At Bauxilum, “they’re doing investigations as if they were the FBI. They investigate employees, doctors, everyone.”

If you get enough consecutive medical reports to prove your case, you can apply for “incapacitation”, a long and burdensome process where you have to demonstrate you can’t return to the workplace because of a medical condition. If you pull it off, you can get paid your salary without going to work. That’s ideal if you want to emigrate and leave your family with a steady income. Workers often joke that the best thing that can happen to you is get a stroke or something to get that sweet incapacitation, even if you don’t leave Venezuela.

In some departments, to fill in the void, workers have to go extra hours (even a paralyzed company needs accounting). Some managers recognize the extra hours and that’s an important source of income, but it’s not uncommon for the company to delay payments of even regular salaries and bonuses.

Many departments are understaffed, but the company’s payroll grows. Mafias of the working unions are known to give jobs to underqualified family members, friends or anyone who pays them. Some of these apply for leave on day one. Managers can also get their own people in, resulting in some areas having too many employees, all under-qualified. You see offices being barely occupied for most of the day, until office hours are over and 20 cleaners show up to polish unused desks.

Some managers recognize the extra hours, but it’s not uncommon for the company to delay payments of even regular salaries and bonuses.

Probably, the basic industry in best shape is Ferrominera (which extracts iron). They pay on time and they have paid all of the bonuses and raises Maduro comes up with. That doesn’t make them safe from mass resignations, though: this year, 32 people have resigned, 11 in March.

“Every time a person goes on vacation, you don’t know if they’re coming back,” a source at Ferrominera told me. Managers must track employees supposed to return from vacation to make sure they’re still on the job.

The company is empty for other reasons, too: their transport hasn’t worked for months, so employees just stay home. Wages are so low that workers don’t even bother to find alternatives, as a cab trip can easily set them back two weeks’ worth of payment. Public transport is unusable, and most employees with cars prefer to keep them parked, because of the high cost of parts and reparations.

The rest of the industries, like CVG, Alcasa, Sidor and Venalum are just as bad, and there’s no stopping it, because PDVSA, the company that prevents them from shutting down, is suffering from mass resignations too.

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