After threatening that its crippling strike action could drag out until next year, GAWU said workers have agreed to resume duties tomorrow, but NAACIE workers continued to hold out yesterday for a satisfactory pay hike offer from the sugar corporation.
GAWU President, Komal Chand said a decision was taken to end the protest “as originally agreed”. The union had planned a seven-day strike, which ends today, after wages talks broke down with GuySuCo. “We expect the corporation to meet with us some time next week for further discussions on the issue of wages,” Chand added.
GuySuCo criticized the action taken by the Guyana Agricultural and General Worker’s Union (GAWU) and also accused it of engaging in a deliberate plan to cripple the industry, which is facing a huge production deficit with increasing losses.
GuySuCo even mulled shutting down operations temporarily, in the wake of the strike, saying that while the strike was in progress, the corporation would be incurring heavy overhead expenses in some areas, without any revenue being generated.
The corporation yesterday informed workers that it would be unable to pay wages this week and committed to making the payments by next Monday. Chand called the announcement a deliberate plan to demonstrate that the industry is struggling to pay regular wages.
Since the corporation has refused to negotiate under duress, Chand said the workers will resume duties so as to facilitate “the necessary discussions on wages”. He said talks should commence by next week between the union and the corporation, noting that the issue of a reasonable increase remains high on the union’s agenda.
GAWU has rejected wage increase offers from the corporation which have been tied to production. Chand said the union is fully aware of the challenges facing the industry, but emphasized that workers have been struggling with meagre increases over the years and this year, “nothing to date”.
Chand said GAWU was served with a “faxed copy” of a lawyer’s letter from private cane farmer Roy Hanoman yesterday, which threatened legal action against the union for the recent industrial action. Hanoman, through his attorney, Denis Hanomansingh also called for $25 million in damages saying he suffered losses as a result of the strike. Hanoman has a contract with the corporation and according to him; his cane was left in the field to deteriorate.
“We are not going to respond to that right now,” Chand said of the letter from Hanoman. He said the cane farmer was obviously “put up to this”.
But while GAWU workers are expected to return to work tomorrow, sugar industry workers who are represented by the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) remain on strike in what the union called an important struggle for better wages. NAACIE General Secretary Kenneth Joseph told Stabroek News yesterday that they are holding out because “the workers deserve better”. Joseph said GuySuCo cannot ask for good sense to prevail when it failed to act similarly and offer the workers better wages.
Frustrating the implementation plan
Cabinet yesterday joined in criticizing the strike action called by GAWU saying that action was meant to frustrate the turnaround plan of the industry.
Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon referred to the timing and location of the strike, stating that the strikes and the withdrawal of labour have both played a significant role in the levels of underachievement in the 2010 target, particularly with reference to production. He called the current situation “untenable”, adding that recent events have shown the union’s intention to frustrate implementation of the industry’s plan.
Luncheon argued that the administration provided the support the industry needed to progress and meet its turnaround target; he said the plan remains a reasonable basis for the short-term revitalization of the industry and that GAWU has been unsupportive.
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) issued a statement yesterday saying it is in solidarity with GAWU and NAACIE, and the umbrella body called on the President to intervene in what it termed an industrial and economic emergency.
FITUG said that sugar workers cannot be faulted for the perils in the industry, and it was the government and GuySuCo and “not the sugar workers”, who determined that a new factory at Skeldon should be constructed to bring down the cost of production.
“The workers are not responsible for the outrageous breakdowns and down time at this ‘modern’ facility. Workers are not responsible for the rainy season and lost days. And sugar workers certainly do not fashion the turnaround plans and the programmes and policies which the employer, Guysuco, comes up with,” FITUG argued.
FITUG said that given the industry’s role in the national economy’s well-being the time has come for substantial government intervention in the impasse.