Gopaul: De-recognition threat was only tactical

- GAWU urges withdrawal, probe

GuySuCo has called its threat to de-recognise GAWU a mere industrial relations tactic which was not intended to go further, while maintaining that the union has behaved irresponsibly this year resulting in a major setback to its turnaround plan.

The corporation, led by Chairman of the Board Dr Nanda Gopaul yesterday attempted to clarify what it had communicated to the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) with respect to the existing collective bargaining agreement between the two parties. “Ever since GuySuCo served a letter on GAWU on December 16, 2010 there seems to be a misinterpretation and some degree of sentiment flowing with respect to this letter from different quarters,” Gopaul told a news conference yesterday, adding that the letter was meant to be a private communication between the corporation and the union

The corporation circulated the letter in question at the news conference and Gopaul said the letter did not serve notice on the union with respect to a termination of the agreement. He said that the letter simply highlighted some concerns and made mention of “considering a termination…not serving a notice.”

But GAWU yesterday issued a call for an urgent investigation into the roots of the threat while pointing to the importance of disciplinary measures. The union also called on the corporation to withdraw the letter immediately, adding that such behaviour is largely responsible for “the sad state the industry finds itself in for some time”.

In a statement, it questioned which “muddled-headed person/s” took it upon “himself/themselves to issue a threat to the union and which could have directly affected the sugar industry and workers’ livelihood.” GAWU said too that it welcomed the President Bharrat Jagdeo’s stance on the issue. The Government Information Agency on Saturday reported Jagdeo as saying that while he understood the frustration of the GuySuCo board and management, de-recognition would not be entertained by his government.

Gopaul was joined yesterday by GuySuCo’s acting CEO Paul Bhim and Deputy CEO Rajendra Singh as they addressed the media on the threat and other issues facing the sugar industry. Gopaul was adamant that the 2010 would have been the beginning of the GuySuCo’s success story had it not been for a series of strikes, and particularly the crippling seven-day strike which GAWU called a short while ago.

Referring to what he called the “real issue,” Gopaul said the survival of the industry is what is important, noting that without a sugar industry there would be “no collective bargaining, no workers and no union.” He noted that after four years of operating at a loss, the industry continues to be hit with a string of strike actions; a total of 279 strikes were recorded this year, some petty and others serious.

Gopaul emphasized that if GAWU’s recent seven days’ strike was not called, the corporation would have been in a position to pay workers an increase. “The strike has thrown us completely out…,” he said, adding that it has put the corporation in an uncomfortable situation with its creditors.

He said too that several ships came to Guyana but left without sugar in the wake of the strike, and he added that GuySuCo had managed to secure an extra 60 euros per tonne of sugar on the shipment which was bound for Tate & Lyle Sugars in Europe.

No money

With its financial situation deteriorating everyday, GuySuCo said it has no money to pay workers an increase this year and/or commit to the Annual Production Incentive (API) payouts. However, Gopaul announced that the President would be meeting sugar workers tomorrow to address their grievances.

Gopaul declined to say whether the President will announce a payout to the workers, adding that he is not privy to what decision, if any, would be made. Some 300 sugar workers and their representatives are expected to meet the President.

The corporation owes close to $2.4 billion to its creditors, of which $1.6 billion is overdue for payment; the ING Bank of Holland is owed another US$4 million and the local overdraft is at around $3.2 billion.

GuySuCo is in talks with government for a bailout and it has also taken a decision to extend the second crop this year into early January to pull in additional revenue; it will likely close the year on 220,000 tonnes.

Gopaul said that the one week of strike action translates into $1billion in lost revenue. “If there was a [good] turnout workers would have been able to receive over 12 days additional pay on each location at minimum…,” he said.

Skeldon factory

Gopaul admitted that there were design flaws at Skeldon, when asked about the state of the flagship factory in the industry, but he laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Booker Tate management.

He said that Booker Tate was responsible for placing certain orders when the factory was being built, adding that this was separate from what the Chinese contractor CNTIC was working on. “Booker Tate did not address some of the Chinese concerns, the Chinese were critical of some of the things…when we discovered this we ended the contract and refused to pay Booker Tate,” Gopaul said.

He continued that government is currently in the process of tabulating its losses from the Booker Tate handling of the factory and will eventually bring a counter claim against the company for the losses incurred as “a result of their incompetence and mismanagement.”

Gopaul stated bluntly that Skeldon is not likely to operate at full capacity because of its design flaws and is capable of grinding only up to 250 tonnes an hour; the initial design said that it had the capacity to grind 350 tonnes of cane an hour. He said the faults have been identified and the Chinese are working on them, adding that there are ongoing discussions about how to resolve most of the problems and improve the factory’s efficiency before the start of the second crop.

He added that the corporation intends to move one of the punt dumpers from the old factory and have it installed at the new factory.

When asked what they intended to do to get production up next year, Bhim said the projection was 310,000 tonnes.

He said the canes are in the ground to achieve the numbers, but he pointed out that the corporation is cash strapped and needs money to push its plans forward.

Singh chimed in that they will also need the support of the workers to do better next year.

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