Striking Blairmont Estate workers have returned to work but rains and the inability to burn canes in the inclement weather have limited their deployment.
This is according to President of the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand, in an invited comment to Stabroek News.
The workers at Blairmont had protested new measures that cost them wages and had called for the removal of Estate Manager Corlette Victorine and Field Manager Anil Seepersaud, citing hardships that they have been enduring since the two managers came to the estate.
A Commission of Inquiry set up by the Ministry of Labour in consultation with the Minister of Agriculture is about to commence its work to investigate allegations against the two officials.
According to Labour Minister Dr. Nanda Gopaul, the Commission comprises Dr. Dale Bisnauth, Chairman; Mohammed Akeel, a member; and Guysuco’s Industrial Relations Officer Deodat Sukhu, Secretary. The Minister of Labour said that following a full resumption of work, the Commission will commence its inquiry and submit its findings within three weeks thereafter.
The cane harvesters told this newspaper yesterday that they were turning out “slowly because there is not enough work for everybody. The cane has to be burnt first before they cut it, but it couldn’t burn because of the bad weather.”
One of the reasons for the workers striking for almost two weeks was because GuySuCo wanted to pay them “$20 to cut an opening [two rows of cane] but we want them to pay $100. Now we hear some people getting $300 to do the same job.”
However, some workers yesterday complained of being victimized after the superintendant sent them home.
The “mechanical tillage” workers told Stabroek News that about over three dozen from their section, 15 turned out on Wednesday. They were ready to get down to work when seven of them, including a union representative, were told that there was no work for them.
They were also asked to report to work yesterday. But one of the workers had to go for medical check-up at the estate’s dispensary, while some of the others chose not to go. Yesterday, about nine persons from that section report for duty.
The workers, who would normally plough the fields, told this newspaper that there is an agreement with GuySuCo that “during the out-of-crop season, they would find five days work for us” to repairs the agricultural machineries. They pointed out too that if GuySuCo sends them home it would have to pay them “four-hour call out pay.”
According to them although the Commission has been “set up a team to investigate the issues affecting the workers, the first day we turned out we faced victimization.” They said too that “if we don’t get the four-hour pay we would send a letter to the investigating team and copy it to the union heads and to GuySuCo.”
The workers also told Stabroek News that “the night before [Tuesday], the union was on television and was pleading with the workers to return to work and they did not expect to be sent home.
On Wednesday, Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr. Roger Luncheon said that labour indiscipline and recurrent strikes were crippling the sector.
“Cabinet was informed that there was cane ready for harvesting at the estates but labour stoppage were a constant threat to target and ultimately financial viability,” Dr. Luncheon said at a post-Cabinet news conference. “GuySuCo’s board is demanding improved performances in the industry particularly at the level of the estate management and this was occurring in the context of workers flouting conventions,” he added.
Luncheon noted that the Ministry of Labour continued its involvement in pursuance of labour laws that govern industrial disputes. “Cabinet will be enhancing engagements with stake holders in the industry in anticipation of a support to the return to normalcy in that industry,” he said, adding that the need exists for “mature minds” to address sugar woes in Guyana.
Dr. Luncheon said that the engagement of the administration at various levels has never ignored the principal role that the union – GAWU has and continues to play in the sugar industry.
“Even in this crop, even before the commencement of harvesting, engagement had flourished at the level of the administration and union officials. [But] with the unprecedented ill-advised and unjustified stoppage one cannot but anticipate that that engagement with the union will be heightened both at the industrial relations level between the Ministry of Agriculture in support of efforts being made by Guysuco’s management and board and also at the level of the Ministry of Labour,” Luncheon said.
Luncheon said too that the Office of the President has and will continue to lend its weight to the sector. “Cabinet intends to heighten its engagement in the sugar belt in its efforts to rectify the situation. Canes are there to be harvested. Labour discipline must prevail. Industrial relations norms must be respected,” he added. “We are not dealing with matters of such substance to reduce the financial viability of this industry to the level and range, this scope of industrial unrest it is leading to.”
Over the years, the corporation’s production has been dismally low, compounding the implementation of the full measure of the EU price cuts for African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.