The Guyana Agricultural and General Worker’s Union (GAWU) has denied breaching the collective labour agreement with the Guy- ana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) as was recently contended by the corporation and it has called the de-recognition threat an awakening for workers.
GuySuCo has accused the main sugar union of breaching the agreement, saying that strikes are being called in the industry without notice. The corporation also accused the union of behaving irresponsibly to cripple sugar in the country.
In a letter to the corporation, dated December 23, GAWU denied any infraction of the agreement, noting that GuySuCo has not provided any evidence to substantiate the claims of breaches. GAWU said too that the corporation is not reaching out to the workforce or treating it in a reasonable and humane manner, noting that this is responsible for the spontaneous reaction from the labour force. “That ball is in your court to change this and not to make unsubstantiated accusations against the union,” GAWU stated.
“During our engagements, the Union pointed to the continuing inefficient and unsatisfactory way the industry was being managed. We also pointed to the low wages paid by GuySuCo which have considerably affected the Corporation from attracting the best possible labour force,” GAWU added, saying that the poor remuneration has forced many persons to migrate from the industry.
GAWU said it has emphasized that attendance to work cannot be delinked from low wages, noting that the falling labour turnout could become reminiscent of the situation in the greater part of the 1980s.
On the issue of production, GAWU pointed out that the industry has struggled within the past five years due to an inadequate cane supply. The union noted that during this year’s first crop, the corporation was able to reap practically every stalk of cane, except for some at Albion Estate, and yet only managed to produce 81,862 tonnes sugar, falling short of its set target of 91,675 tonnes by 9,813 tonnes.
It continued that the first crop benefitted from one of the best weather periods for cane harvesting. GAWU said that the industry’s tonnes cane/tonnes sugar (TC/TS) ratio revealed an average of 10.8, except at Skeldon where the state-of-the-art factory devoured an average of 14.7 tonnes cane to produce a tonne of sugar. “That Estate, as was envisaged, should have significantly contributed to bringing the industry’s TC/TS ratio even lower. Had it performed as expected, then its production of 11,646 tonnes sugar in the first crop, even with a TC/TS average ratio of 10.8, would have been 15,851 tonnes sugar that is 4,205 tonnes higher”, the union charged. Further, it said at the EU price, during the first crop, the corporation would have lost approximately G$400M.
GAWU also pointed to the turnaround plan which it said was accepted by the Minister of Agriculture and formulated under the stewardship of the Chairman of the Board “with absolutely no union input.” The plan, the union said, spoke to a production of 320,979 tonnes this year but the reality is that the industry would produce just over 220,000 tonnes of sugar this year, and canes estimated by the Corporation to produce 45,000 tonnes sugar would remain un-harvested.
According to GAWU, assuming that the production would have been 264,000 to 265,000 tonnes, if all the crop’s canes had been reaped, at this point in time, there would have been a shortfall of 57,000 tonnes vis-à-vis the Turnaround Plan. This quantity of sugar, in the world market, at today’s price of US33.03 cents per pound, represents an estimated G$8.5B, the union added.
Further, GAWU made reference to GuySuCo’s letter dated November 09, 2010, in which they outlined wage/salary offers saying that it reached the union some hours after a GuySuCo press release, on the subject, was distributed to the various media outlets. According to the union, GuySuCo informed the press that it would be unable to pay wages on November 26, 2010, yet the Corporation failed to apprise the union of this development.
GAWU added it was reported that the corporation’s letter dated December 16, 2010, in which the de-recognition threat was issued was almost simultaneously handed, to the media, “which suggested at least bad faith.”
GAWU called on the corporation to withdraw the de-recognition letter, charging that it remains an indictment on the corporation and on the “person/s who is/are the real author/s.” It said too that the threat has served to awaken and steel the majority of sugar workers behind the Union.
According to GAWU, the tactic also exposed the high-handed tendencies which must be curtailed as it does no good to the industry. The union added that present-day sugar workers, inheritors of a rich history of struggle and militancy, will not be easily broken. “…Many tried to do so before. Those many have utterly failed. Instead of threats, vilification, employment of all kinds of ludicrous manoeuvres and the desire to use contract labourers, a new sincere relationship needs to be forged since much is at stake for the industry, the workers and the nation,” it said.
Additionally, GAWU touched on the issue of strikes, saying that “real strikes” in the industry were few, but it noted that even with the inclusion of the “work stoppages” which the corporation terms strikes the numbers are much lower than in the late 1980s. Based on the numbers, GAWU said, the real strikes were as follows: 2005, 9 strikes; 2006, 45 strikes; 2007, 10 strikes; 2008, 18 strikes; and 2009, 15 strikes.
GAWU added that the barrier to improved production, which the corporation mentioned in its letter to the union, failed to admit the mismanagement and anti-labour attitude often demonstrated by the Corporation. “Address these, and weather permitting, they will result in the corporation being able to significantly exploit its capacity and capability and thus lead to an improvement in production,” GAWU said.