LBI, Enmore workers strike over cane quota

Cane harvesters at the La Bonne Intention (LBI) and the Enmore estates, on the East Coast of Demerara, yesterday went on strike over a decision by GuySuCo requiring them to meet a quota before they are paid.

Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle called a meeting last evening with representatives of GuySuCo and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) to resolve the dispute, but it failed to reach a compromise for a resumption of work.

Some of the striking sugar workers

The new industrial action comes days after Berbice sugar workers agreed to resume work after striking over working conditions and payment of their incentives. It will likely put added pressure on the cash-strapped sugar corporation’s ability to meet production demands.

GuySuCo’s CEO Paul Bhim told this newspaper last evening that the issue will be addressed further. He was not at the meeting with the Labour Officer and the union last evening and could not comment on it. But he noted, however, that the measure by the sugar corporation, which has been seeking to cut costs and operate more efficiently, is nothing new to the industry. “It’s always been there but it’s now that we are asking them to complete a task given… if they are given two tonnes of canes to cut, we are asking them to complete it before being paid… not to leave it halfway as they have been doing,” Bhim said.

GAWU’s General Secretary Seepaul Narine told Stabroek News afterward that the union proposed that its members meet and discuss the issue with GuySuCo, providing that the conditions which existed before the new pay scheme remain. However, he said that GuySuCo officials have maintained their position and the issue remains unresolved.

Narine noted that the union supports the workers, saying that “in the 20 years gone by, the workers would cut canes and be paid regardless of the amount of canes cut.” He added, “They (GuySuCo) are not making any effort to have a resumption of duty by the workers.”

The union, Narine said, will today communicate with the workers about the meeting’s outcome and he noted that they were not likely to accept the new arrangement instituted by the corporation.

Opposition party, the AFC yesterday said its representatives met with the striking workers, who are from six gangs of sugar workers from the LBI and Enmore estates. Previously, the AFC said, the workers were paid for the amount of cane they cut. However, the workers were told this week that they needed to cut ten rows of cane before the task is considered completed and for them to be paid.

The AFC said in a statement that the workers are contending that it would take two days to meet the quota for one day’s pay, since six rows are the most that can be cut in a day.

It added that the workers said that there were discussions on the issue between GAWU and management of GuySuCo in February 2010, and they were expecting a positive outcome.  However, on Sunday last they were told that the corporation’s position had not changed, resulting in yesterday’s strike.

The party said the workers noted too they were also concerned about punts of cane that were allegedly dumped because the factory refused to grind them. The workers stated that this will adversely affect their Annual Production Incentive (API) and they requested an explanation.

They pointed out too that cane was planted far into the backdam costing some $133M, but because no canals were dug and the soil was too soft for tractors and trailers, the cane had to be left uncut.

The AFC noted that the workers expressed concern about equipment being sourced by GuySuCo, including the tractors at the Blairmont Estate that were purportedly bought for $18M each and did not last more than a few weeks in the fields before experiencing major damage, for which there was no apparent warranty.

It said the workers also expressed concern about corruption occurring at the corporation, involving contractors of machinery and those who hire them. They pointed out too that the number of tools allocated to them for decades has been cut down, and when they develop faults, GuySuCo refuses to replace them.

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