Over the years we heard of the fight for the rights of sugar workers by the PPP\C so that they would not be trampled upon by any government. Before 1992 workers’ rights was strongly represented by GAWU and we saw workers strike and get what they wanted. We heard then that there was no way a government should be in bed with the union because then the rights of workers would be trampled on, and GAWU was fighting for the working class in the industry and the PPP was fighting for the working class in Guyana. But all things were said before 1992.
I can recall during the years 1990-92 on May 1 (Labour Day), five young men including myself led the march from Bath Settlement Old Well Square to Dhanar Old Road Square, Cotton Tree, West Coast Berbice, and thousands of workers, especially sugar workers gathered and marched showing their fight for the rights of workers. Many delivered speeches, and the programme was normally chaired by the vibrant Navin Chandarpal. The workers would listen carefully to the leaders of the PPP, especially the great Dr Jagan, who continued to assure workers that their rights would never be trampled upon as long as the PPP got into power, and that workers would stand to benefit more from the industry in the years to come and would have better living conditions. Those sentiments were echoed firstly by Moses Nagamootoo who normally set the stage for the great leader Dr Jagan to join in and take the workers to great heights of expectation under a PPP government.
Later in 1992 (October 5) the PPP/C was given the mantle of creating a better Guyana and a better life for sugar workers. But lo and behold all that was promised to the sugar workers before 1992 was now on the back burner of the PPP/C agenda after winning the elections.
After the 1992 elections, the rallies that had been held in West Berbice on Labour Day were stopped. Workers were abandoned and had no way of reaching their leaders, both PPP and GAWU, face to face. The rights of the workers were no more as GAWU continued to have a relationship with the PPP and started to sleep in the same bed with PPP/C government. The workers become their doormats to opportunity. All that the great leader Dr Jagan fought for and said to the workers was in vain.
We saw the President of GAWU becoming an executive member of the PPP/C and a member of parliament for the said party. We saw many regional GAWU representatives being chosen because of their political affiliations to the ruling PPP/C. We saw less or no representation now from GAWU, as workers’ rights were being trampled upon every single day by GuySuCo and nothing was being done. No one from the PPP/C-GAWU stands up for the rights of the workers today. Where are the PPP/C leaders today when workers are striking for better wages, benefits and working conditions? Well I must admit that there is one who is continuing that fight, and that is Moses Nagamootoo.
We saw the PPP/C using the sugar workers for their political gain once again in 2014 by fooling them into a wrongful protest in front of Parliament before the 2014 National Budget debate, to protest for something that will have no benefit for them. Workers were told by the PPP/C that the AFC, especially Nagamootoo and Ramayya wanted to cut the money for sugar workers and GuySuCo. During that protest we heard the fight by Mr Nagamootoo in Parliament for sugar workers to be given better wages and also to have better working conditions in the industry. We heard Dr Ramayya telling the National Assembly that workers were being used and trampled upon every day by this government and GuySuCo. But workers ‘cussed down’ Moses Nagamootoo that day and the PPP/C rejoiced. The GAWU President stood in front of Parliament and asked why they were protesting. A few days after that the workers at Blairmont Estate staged a strike for better wages which lasted two weeks, but no one from the PPP/C and GAWU came to their rescue; it was the same Mr Nagamootoo, Dr Ramayya and the AFC that highlighted the plight of the workers.
Editor, with all that, I am now wondering – and I know many are doing the same – as to what will happen to the industry. Many questions are being asked but the PPP\C and GAWU are not interested in answering them correctly. All they are doing is playing the cat and mouse game with the workers and their families. They are telling the families of these workers that the AFC, Nagamootoo, Ramayya and Ramjattan want to take bread and butter out of their mouths by not supporting the budgetary allocations for GuySuCo in 2014.
But it bothers me to know that this same PPP/C government when it was in opposition used to strike for better wages, working conditions and benefits for the workers and used to get what they wanted. But today when workers strike for better payment, working conditions and benefits the same PPP/C is telling the workers they can’t give them anything more because GuySuCo is in debt. The PPP/C and GAWU should know that when they were in the opposition this country was in debt, but yet the PNC used to find the money for the sugar workers and adhere to the conditions that were demanded by the PPP, GAWU and the workers. So, what nonsense is the PPP/C and GAWU telling the workers today?
GuySuCo is in debt and yet they can afford to treat management as kings. They can buy window curtains, renovate the houses in the compounds, buy gas, provide transportation for managers’ children, etc, free, and also pay these managerial people their full month’s salary. How can a company that is in debt do all these things? How can a company that is in debt hire a man from overseas to run the day-to-day affairs of the company when he is living overseas? How can GuySuCo afford to pay this man’s airfare twice monthly as well as hotel expenses and they are in debt, while this man still collects his monthly salary plus other benefits? Where are the PPP/C and GAWU now on this matter?
But yet President Donald Ramotar has made a dreadful move to further trample on workers’ rights by offering GAWU President Komal Chand a place on GuySuCo’s Board. GuySuCo is a company and GAWU is a union that ought to represent the rights of the workers against this company.
Komal Chand cannot even stand up for the rights of the people he represents. What makes President Ramotar believe that Komal Chand will make a difference on GuySuCo’s board? He himself as President once sat on GuySuCo’s board. We heard GuySuCo say there will be no pay rise for the sugar workers in 2014 because the corporation is in debt.
Well, here are a couple questions for the President, the PPP/C and GAWU. How can a company not cater for its workforce in a whole year’s budget but still wants to meet its target? How can a company not want to pay an increase in wages and benefits to its workforce for a whole year but yet raises it production target for the year? It’s more work for people and less pay.
The President, the PPP/C, GuySuCo and GAWU must stop playing with the lives of the sugar workers. They should stop their politics in relation to the welfare of the workers in this industry and start putting in place measures that will see workers being given their rightful salaries and benefits with strong representation on all things. They should not increase the production target and leave the worker’s salary at a standstill. A time will come when workers will once more be rightfully represented.
I call on Moses Nagamootoo, Dr Ramayya, Khemraj Ramjattan, Charrandass Persaud and the entire AFC to continue the fight for the workers. They should continue to highlight the plight of the working class of this land.
Region 5 AFC Management