He said too that the latest sugar workers strike demonstrated the need for greater cooperation and understanding between the Corporation, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union and workers. Writing in this week’s Mirror newspaper, Ramotar said that clearly, if all were aware of the serious challenges facing the industry, then such an action could have been avoided.
A seven days strike by sugar workers last week for better wages crippled operations at factories across the sugar belt. Since the corporation has refused to negotiate under duress, GAWU called off its strike so as to facilitate “the necessary discussions on wages”. The union’s President, Komal Chand said talks should commence this week between the union and the corporation and he had noted that the issue of a reasonable increase remains high on the union’s agenda.
“The reality also is that the sugar industry has always had controversial relations. From its inception, the industry has been a battlefield”, Ramotar, a longstanding member of the GuySuCo board, said. He pointed to the struggles of the slaves, the indentured labourers, and sugar workers over the years. “Now we have a new dispensation with a government sympathetic to the working people. However, the centuries of confrontational relations between management and workers will not disappear in a day. We are experiencing a transitional hangover from our history”, Ramotar wrote.
He noted that in recent times, the industry has been facing many big challenges such as price cuts for sugar last year that saw a loss of US$45M or $10B for that year. “The corporation, in preparing for what they saw approaching, i.e. the cut in price, decided to work on a strategy to reduce cost. The Skeldon project was the answer to the cuts. Unfortunately, things did not go smoothly”, he said.
He noted that Booker Tate was contracted as the engineers in charge of overlooking the project and denied that the Chinese company, CNTIC, awarded the contract to build the factory did not have experience in the sugar industry. He said that the bid by the Chinese was the lowest. “This point has to be made since many persons who are criticizing the project now might have accused the corporation of accepting higher bids when China is the main manufacturing country in the world”, Ramotar wrote. “It is true that the factory has not lived up to expectations as yet.
It is still experiencing many problems”, he added. CNTIC has been severely criticized for the ongoing problems with the expensive Skeldon factory.
The PPP General Secretary, one of the frontrunners in the process for nomination as the party’s next presidential candidate, said that some of the other issues challenging the corporation have to do with low worker turnout with a 50% average turnout of harvesters at crop time. “That, of course increased the cost of production. Due to this, the factories are not grinding to their maximum. They are often forced to stop grinding due to the fact that not enough canes were harvested on a particular day”, he wrote. “This leads to loss of time and to the extension of the crop, which often goes into the rainy season and a period when the quality of the cane begins to decline”.
Ramotar pointed out that to deal with this issue, the corporation has introduced cane loaders but clearly, management has to think about greater mechanization to deal with the problem. He said that in this process of readjustment, all stakeholders have to make sacrifices.
“The government has demonstrated its commitment to the industry by investing in the new packaging plant and the lending on concessional basis, funds to build the new Skeldon complex. Manage-ment and workers must also show a strong commitment to the industry. They have to also make sacrifices to ensure that the industry makes a successful readjustment and blossom forth even stronger”, he said.
He added that the industry is going through some difficulties but it has a good future. “The industry can produce 500 000 tons of sugar; it can be a major producer of industrial (refined) sugar; it can produce various specialty sugars, alcohol, electricity, ethanol, etc. It is therefore, important that we overcome this period rapidly so that the workers at all levels can benefit much more. Our country would also be stronger and our people a proud one. To do so, we have to have more cooperation and greater communication at all levels”, he said.