The recent spate of strikes in the sugar industry suggest dissatisfaction caused by perceptions of inequity and unfairness in relation to the different job categories
The proliferation of strikes has apparently become another ‘normalcy’ in the sugar industry of Guyana – a phenomenon quite unusual in other sugar-producing countries in the Caribbean, and indeed the world at large. It is certainly unique when compared with other industries and the service sector (including the public service) in Guyana. Strikes by themselves, let alone the many other of their ills, certainly warrant an independent Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry.
The recent spate of strikes reportedly surround the issues of job evaluation and compensation adjustments consequent upon the implementation of different ‘job evaluation’ exercises for the various job categories and bargaining units covered by GAWU and NAACIE respectively. It also has been reported that there are similar rumblings among the ‘security’ category which apparently falls between the cracks of these two unions, as well as the ‘senior staff’ or management category.
The unfortunate picture which emerges suggests that the underlying dissatisfactions stem from perceptions of inequity and unfairness in the relative values between the different job categories, and the apparent lack of relevant information, thus causing rampant confusion among all concerned – most of all, amongst the employees themselves. They have been inadequately informed of the principles, the methodology and objectives applicable to job evaluation and related salary surveys. Worse is the seeming expectation of ‘automatic’ upward compensation adjustments for all, while maintaining historical salary differentials among individuals with varying lengths of service.
Furthermore, there appear to be some structural and systemic difficulties arising from maintaining lines of demarcation in the representational and negotiation arena occupied by the two recognised unions in the industry.
According to published reports the recent strike involved sugar boilers, laboratory technicians, workshop supervisors and foremen, medical and office staff – all concerned about not only the reported non-payment of adjusted salaries, but more importantly the resultant overlapping of certain of their salary levels by those whom they supervise and are represented by GAWU.
It is a situation which invites, and indeed demands, some creativity. And GAWU can help in this respect. This union has been part of a ground-breaking experience with two other unions, in jointly bargaining and implementing a job evaluation exercise at DDL some years ago. Indeed reports are that the three unions have recently reconfirmed in writing the initial compact, so GuySuCo’s management should seek to explore similar possibilities with GAWU and NAACIE with a view to substantively extricating itself from the current imbroglio, and to restructure a more sustainable compensation management regime. It is not too late to learn from and apply the ‘positives’ already tried, tested and found to be beneficial in similar contexts.
E B John