Saying that a “silver lining” is beginning to emerge for the struggling sugar industry, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand yesterday said GuySuCo’s viability is contingent on its ability to grow a good quantity and quality cane.
Addressing the May Day rally hosted by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) at the National Park, Chand noted that there is adequate land to produce the requisite amount of sugar cane and he said that with good management, a satisfied work force and various innovations, the industry can regain its profitable status in a short while.
“There is no easy route to achieve this [profitability] but it is neither beyond our capability,” Chand said, while adding that the turnaround of the industry lies in the hands of management and workers.
For yet another year, there were two separate rallies held by FITUG and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) after a march through the streets of Georgetown. The FITUG rally was held under the theme, ‘Advance workers’ interest for future development.’ There was a poor turnout at the park and as in years gone by most of the workers appeared disinterested in the various speakers and their interest was only roused by the occasional dancing of inebriated workers on the tarmac.
Chand, whose union represents most of the sugar workers across the country, noted that another year had gone by without the industry overcoming the “misfortune” that has deprived it. At the same time, he noted that the industry’s contribution to the country’s economy and its value to tens of thousands of Guyanese has not diminished.
He expressed gratitude to the government for the subvention given to the corporation this year and also said that while GAWU welcomed the interest shown to the industry, it cannot see “eye to eye” with the suggestions by the opposition parties to sell estates and diversify the industry, among others.
“At the same time as a stakeholder we should like to see the industry become viable as this would surely impact the quality of life of our membership,” said Chand, who used the majority of his speech to talk about global issues and at one point was being cheered off the stage by workers.
Chand also called for the holding of local government elections soon, while saying they are long overdue. However, he said there are issues with far reaching implications which require more profound consideration and wide consultation. He also chided the opposition parties for effecting cuts to the national budget.
Employers working against labour
Also speaking at the rally was General Secre-tary of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) Kenneth Joseph, who called upon employers to refashion their approach to collective bargaining and their regard for their employees. He said that he was “hurt” when employers, especially those in the public sector, blatantly try to destroy organised labour and its gains, while noting that provisions for workers, such as pension and medical schemes, help to keep a work force contented.
Joseph singled out the Guyana Power and Light Inc., with which NAACIE has been struggling. He stated that when a corporation’s management can refuse to cooperate with a union and adhere to agreements and “show blatant eye pass to a sitting minister of government,” it could not be in the interest of the lives of workers.
“I am ashamed when trade unions allow management with super salaries to threaten, degrade and psychologically destroy the poorly underpaid salary earners who actually produce the goods and services without sounding their voices,” Joseph said, while adding that it was time for the “masquerade” to stop.
He also called for joint positions from FITUG and the GTUC on issues such as the future of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), and the safety and health of the nation’s workers, among others.
Critchlow College subvention
Meanwhile, FITUG President Carvil Duncan during his address took aim at GTUC General Secretary Lincoln Lewis on his rejection of the conditions for the return of the subvention to the Critchlow Labour College (CLC), which had been cut by the government eight years ago over accountability concerns.
The GTUC has contended that the opposition parties, which initiated a vote on the restoration of the funding, had been duped by the government into agreeing to a proposal for FITUG to have the same amount of members on the CLC’s board as the GTUC. Because it is mandated that representatives of two government ministries also sit on the board and the fact that FITUG is closely aligned to the government, the GTUC had argued that the proposed configuration would effectively give control of the board to the government.
Duncan said he was informed that key personnel in the GTUC were not even aware that the body would have rejected the proposal and he added that the workers should realise that the trade union movement is not “no one person… [but] for workers.” “I am putting Lincoln on notice that FITUG is ready and willing to name their four persons and we call on the TUC now to name their four persons because in the final analysis, Critchlow Labour College is named after the founder of a union that I happen to be general Secretary [of],” Duncan said, while adding that the college was created to give workers’ children a second chance and if Lewis is going to stand against this then he needs to go.
Duncan also lambasted APNU and the AFC for effecting cuts to the recent national budgets. However, as he listed the projects for which estimates were cut, including the Specialty Hospital and the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, some of the workers shouted “They right.” Duncan, much to the amusement of many, only acknowledged that he heard somebody say “shame” and added that shame is only associated with those who know what shame is. He urged the workers to let the opposition parties know that they are unhappy and that “that those things that they cut they must put it back.”
He boasted that FITUG was invited to consultations on the 2014 budget 2014, which he called a “working class budget,” and he said most of the “interesting suggestions” that it made were included in the estimates.
“We asked that the subsidy for electricity should be increased by 50% and we got that. We asked that there should be an increase in old age pension and we got that.
We did ask also that there should be an increase in salaries but we hope to get that,” Duncan said as many of the workers erupted in vocal protest at the latter suggestion not being granted.
Duncan also spoke of some workers who are still working for less than the $35,000 minimum wage and urged the workers to be their brothers’ keepers and ensure that they enjoy the same benefits that they enjoy.
Prime Minister Sam Hinds, meanwhile, told the workers, most of whom were exiting by this time, that they faced a number of “severe and great challenges,” including the non-passage of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) (Amendment) Bill, which he said the opposition parties are refusing to approve in its present form although it complies with international requirements.
“There are times when we would be ready to take on the world but this is not one of those times…,” he said. He added that the government stands against money laundering and terrorism and the non-passage of the bill will have a devastating effect on all Guyanese and that these effects are already being felt by some businesses. The Prime Minister said the process of cutting Guyana from financial transactions of the world has already begun.
He said the ruling party does not “take it lightly” that the combined opposition is playing “beyond or above partisan politics.” He added that even when the country was being “run down” by the PNC government, the PPP extended critical support at crucial times in the country history.
He said that the non-passage of the law is the number one concern of the government and a matter of great anxiety, while adding that the cuts effected to the budget by the opposition are also troubling to the administration.