Following last week’s threat by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) to de-recognize the main union representing sugar workers, the Alliance For Change (AFC) is calling for a special, emergency session of Parliament to discuss the fate of sugar, sugar workers and the sugar industry.
“The issues at stake and the cost to the nation are far more than just the niceties of a labour agreement or the health of a trade union – though we take note of the increasing efforts of employers to set aside collective agreements while the Ministry of Labour” idly stands by and watches, the Party said in a statement yesterday. “We are asking our colleagues in the opposition parliamentary parties to join with us and demand of the government a special, emergency session of parliament to discuss the fate of sugar, sugar workers and the sugar industry”, it said.
Last Thursday, Guysuco sent a letter to the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) in which it said that the corporation was considering the termination of the Recognition and the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement of 1976 over the union’s continual flouting of procedures before a strike is called. President Bharrat Jagdeo has since said that de-recognition would not be contemplated and the matter had been scheduled to be discussed at an internal meeting on Saturday. Observers have pointed out that de-recognition is not even a matter that the President can pronounce on as it is in the remit of the Trade Union Recognition and Certification Board. A press release from GuySuCo on Saturday had said that the decision to review its relationship with GAWU was based on what was expected of the union under the terms of the 1976 labour agreement.
Referring to the articles on the de-recognition threat, the AFC said yesterday that the headlines from the independent dailies were “singular and expectedly shocking”. It said that as Guyanese debated the issue and what it meant for the future of the industry, the union and the country, two of the more stinging rebukes came from sugar workers themselves.
“First, not even in their wildest imagination, not even in the “darkest days” of the PNC, could anyone think, much better, utter such political heresy. Now this, by a government of their own making, where potential Presidential candidate and Party General Secretary (Donald Ramotar) sits as a member of the Board. Second, they asked, is this the end of Dr. (Cheddi) Jagan’s dream of a socialism built on the strength of its working classes? Was this the end of the pledge he made at the graveside of the Enmore Martyrs “There was to be no turning back. There and then I made a silent pledge – I would dedicate my entire life to the cause of the struggle of the Guyanese people against bondage and exploitation”,” the statement asked.
The party noted that before the dust had settled word came from President Jagdeo, upon his arrival from Brazil, that the statement was a non-starter. The party quoted a Chronicle story: “President Bharrat Jagdeo made it clear Friday evening upon his return from the MERCOSUR summit in Brazil that his administration will not countenance any suggestion from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) about de-recognising the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU).”
The AFC said that what makes that troubling, if not mischievous is that the Head of GuySuco’s Board is the Permanent Secretary (PS) in the President’s Office, Dr Nanda Kishore Gopaul. “In fact the PS had been appointed the President’s point-man on the Board, given the growing rift between the President and the Party-supported appointees on the Board”, the Party said.
“Would the PS have kept such an important issue as the possible de-certification of the GAWU from the President and then announce it when he was out of the country? Or is this nothing more than a publicity stunt intended to win plaudits for the President and upon his return from Brazil announce the triumphal rescue and, therefore, saviour of GAWU? There may very well be another reading here: The outcome was deliberate and calculated in which a) GAWU would be forewarned of the likely fate that awaited it in the face (of) continuing labour difficulties; and b) the President would be seen to rescue GAWU in the nick of time while leaving the threat intact”, the AFC said.
It said that whatever “reading” is attributed to the story, it is quite clear that: industrial relations in the sugar industry is in a mess; the shouting match between the Union and the Corporation has not served to bring the two sides closer; the intervention by the government has not helped and only served to confirm suspicions that the management of the industry had been underestimated and the expansion project (Skeldon factory) was quickly becoming a white (elephant).
Further, the AFC noted that in this season of goodwill, the party is disappointed that the government would refuse an increase to sugar workers, while other government employees were getting 5% hike, and then visit on their collective heads the spectre of de-certification.