President Bharrat Jagdeo this afternoon offered sugar workers a 5% one-off pay increase which they will receive before the end of the year.
Jagdeo made the announcement at a meeting with about 300 sugar workers and their representatives at the Guyana International l Conference Centre, Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.
Many of the sugar workers expressed disappointment that the increase – valued at $720M – is not being given tax free while others concluded that it is better than nothing.
Meanwhile, President Jagdeo pointed to the absence of President of the Guyana Agriculture Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand at the meeting stating that it is clear from his absence that the union head has a different agenda.
The reaction of some workers to the announcement led the President to say that that whoever was unhappy with the offer had the option of refusing it. “We will keep the money if you don’t want it”, Jagdeo declared.
Saying he wanted to meet directly with sugar workers because of rumours on the ground that his government was oblivious to their concerns, he said the record would show how supportive the administration has been within the past decade.
Jagdeo took umbrage at statements GAWU President Chand made on a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programme with respect to his government’s support of the sugar industry, and he wasted little time in saying that Chand appears to have a different agenda.
Jagdeo pointed out that Chand was notably absent from the meeting today though an invitation was extended to him. “He was too busy to be at a meeting when we turned up at the union last month and he is too busy to be here today”, he said of the union leader.
The President spoke of how he has been denied an opportunity to face Chand in the same room with respect to issues facing the industry, and he charged that nowhere in the world would a President turn up for a meeting at a union and the head is absent.
But Chand when contacted by Stabroek News said he has no agenda in the industry and he explained that his absence was as a result of the late notice he received. He noted hat a formal invitation came late last night, pointing out that prior to this invitations were sent out to union representatives and shop stewards attached to GAWU. According to Chand, he has a duty to ensure that due respect is shown to the union.
Chand also stated that he has no difficulty facing the President on the issues affecting the industry, and he emphasized that his statements to the BBC were accurate because they mentioned that the investment at Skeldon was a combination of funds generated by the corporation and loans. He added that if the administration makes an investment in the industry it is part of its obligation. “This is the government’s industry”, he said.
The President focused his address to the sugar workers on what he termed “the realities of sugar”, and he summed these up as declining revenue as a result of heavy price cuts from Europe, and its role in the local economy becoming of lesser importance. However, he stressed that government decided to invest more and diversify instead of quitting sugar.
“Sugar is important to you and your families, but it is becoming less important in the economy…still it remains an important industry and we are not closing it down”, Jagdeo said. He said that the administration made strategic moves to invest more; to get rid of Booker Tate management and also to let go of the former CEO of the corporation, Errol Hanoman. Hanoman, he said, was cut because of complaints that he was not doing much.
Jagdeo made the point that there is still a tremendous amount of work left to be done in sugar, particularly in cane cultivation. He said that the corporation still has too much wastage and that “too many of them are still sitting in their offices” despite the fact that a lot of work remains outstanding.
He stressed that the corporation is heavily indebted, noting that the situation is so dire some of the creditors are already pulling out. The government, he said, had stayed out of the corporation’s businesses and had just been bailing it out over the years; this decision might have to be reviewed he said.