Sugar strike off but labour problems persist

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has called off its industry wide strike, but some workers at Rose Hall estate are refusing to resume duties citing the current wage offers and working conditions.

GuySuCo’s bell loaders are unable to operate in the fields because of the weather, and the workers on that estate are dissatisfied. The majority are demanding a change in the arrangement of cutting and loading canes saying that they will only cut and stack.

The workers are refusing to cut and load because it involves moving the cane to the punts; an operation that has been mechanized in the industry. However, GuySuCo is saying that conditions are not conducive for the machines to operate, which means that the workers must cut and load.

Close to 300 harvesters at Rose Hall are on strike, and while some are protesting the arrangement currently in place others are refusing to accept $1000 from the corporation to clear a bed.

Industry sources told Stabroek News yesterday that two cane cutting gangs at Rose Hall are on strike demanding $4000 per bed to cut canes; management is offering $1000 per bed. GuySuCo is insisting that the canes are stale after they were burnt and left in the fields for seven days.

In addition, a few sugar workers from Skeldon are protesting dam conditions and did not turn out for work. Skeldon is the only factory currently grinding cane; the other estates were temporarily shut down in the wake of the 7-day GAWU strike. Start-up is not likely across the industry until a sufficient amount of cane is harvested and transported to the various factories.

Since Skeldon was the only factory operating this week, production numbers in the industry remain poor; figures seen by this newspaper indicate that daily production was at 123 tonnes; sugar production for the week to date stood at 562 tonnes; second crop production was 120,593 tonnes and production for 2010 was just over 200,000 tonnes.
Since the corporation has refused to negotiate under duress, GAWU called off its strike so as to facilitate “the necessary discussions on wages”, according to union President, Komal Chand. 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.

But NAACIE which also joined the protest with GAWU continues to hold out. This newspaper was told that the NAACIE strike action did not receive wide support with the majority of its membership showing up for work; reports are that only a handful of workers from Enmore and LBI participated in the action taken by NAACIE and they numbered around ten. Yesterday, the workers resumed duties.

Be balanced

In response to a joint statement from the three Berbice Chambers of Commerce, GAWU yesterday called on the chambers to be more balanced in their observations of the sugar industry.

GAWU said it understands the interest of the chambers in having the current impasse between the union, its members and the corporation resolved; adding that the lack of spending power by the thousands of Berbician sugar workers has impacted on the current lack of economic activity in New Amsterdam, its environs and along the Corentyne.

GAWU called on the chambers to engage GuySuCo in some ”serious soul-searching with respect to the corporation’s treatment of its employees”, and suggested that the groups assist GuySuCo to fashion immediate policies to lift worker-morale and attendance.

The union continued: “For the Chambers to make statements such as `the constant resort to strike action by the Unions’; `the constant disruption and forced shutdown of the entire operations of the Corporation…’; and `frustrations by citizens of Region Six against the confrontational approach and insensitivity towards the reality of the sugar industry are mounting…’ is to imply that the workers and GAWU are to blame for the current state of affairs. Neither GAWU nor its members can be blamed for the Skeldon factory’s failures and the other numerous examples of GuySuCo’s mis-management”.

Further, the union called on the Chambers to transform their concerns into a strong effective lobby through which the Government and GuySuCo will address the faults at the Skeldon factory.  The union said too the Chambers should push the corporation to accept their failings and implement meaningful measures to improve the productive capacity of the industry.

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