Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) President Komal Chand yesterday said this can still be a turnaround year for the sugar industry once major defects at GuySuCo’s Skeldon factory are fixed, and while he welcomed government’s intervention in the sector, he accused opposition party, the AFC of trying to undermine the union.
“With the fixing of the major defects at the Skeldon factory before the commencement of the second crop in late July, as we were recently assured by GuySuCo, then 2012 can really be the turnaround year for the sugar industry,” Chand said while addressing the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) May Day rally held at the National Park.
Unlike recent years, FITUG’s rally saw a poor turnout and from all indications sugar workers did not support the event in their numbers as has been the case previously. There were, however, workers joining the parade for the first time, such as those from the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) project, and the Government Infor-mation Agency (GINA)—two government agencies that the administration has said would be adversely affected by the $21B cut from the national budget.
Chand said that the $4B the government has allocated to GuySuCo is critical to the industry and it is hoped that crucial capital works, which are badly required in certain areas, would be soon undertaken and that a value-for-money audit would be conducted soon afterwards to satisfy any concerns about the expenditure.
The resources GuySuCo has at its disposal have not been matching its yearly production, especially in the last six years, Chand said, noting that the corporation’s land assets, spanning its seven grinding estates, needs to produce sugar as in the days when the industry’s production was over 350,000 tonnes.
“Cane-growing knowledge is there. It is primarily left to those who manage the industry to make the critical assessments and come up with the proper decisions to make this industry viable and a success,” he pointed out, saying GAWU is always ready to play its role in defence of the workers’ everyday interests.
While GAWU is pleased at “the substantial interest” shown by the government in the sugar industry on one hand, Chand added that it is peeved by another intervention which sought to divide the workers’ ranks and undermine trade unionism.
“Here, attention is drawn to the attempts by leaders and activists of the AFC to seize on the genuine grievances of some sections of our workforce, no doubt to promote their political ends,” Chand said. He added that the party has revealed an anti-working class and anti-trade union tendency and mischief is afoot.
Yesterday’s rally saw criticisms being heaped upon the combined opposition, APNU and AFC, for its budget cuts with President Donald Ramotar leading the way.
Chand also criticised the budget cuts by the opposition APNU and AFC, saying that in “one fell swoop, over $20B from the proposed 2012 budget was guillotined by the combined parliamentary opposition.”
“Why, we ask, would a few politicians, without understandable rhyme or reason, seek to obstruct our country’s development, especially given its low current level and at a time when it is making strides, even if small, towards progress?” he questioned.
Meanwhile, Ramotar, in his first Labour Day address as Head of State, said anyone who had the interest of the working class at heart should have supported the budget “unconditionally.” He questioned what Opposition Leader David Granger wants him “to give” when the opposition removed the Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) allocation—amounting to $18B in funds that government has yet to receive—out of the budget, which he maintained has repercussions for several sectors of the country and also for the Amerindian communities.
“What do I have to give him [Granger] to support something as noble as this—that can only bring benefit to Guyana? I don’t know if he believes that he and I could sit down and run this country as it is was a casino. I refuse to be part of that. We would deal with what is good and what is right for Guyana,” Ramotar said to tepid applause.
He stated it is not what is good for the political parties but rather what is good for the people of the country, adding that he hopes the opposition members can find enough patriotism to realize what they are doing. The president also said he does not understand how the opposition could argue that its actions would not affect government workers and he added that he was upset at what it was “trying” to do the workers who have bills to pay.
“I am at a loss to understand their logics and I will only conclude that they are being motivated by vindictiveness, by revenge…,” he said.
Ramotar pointed to the $1B reduction of the $6B relief package proposed for the Guyana Power & Light Company (GPL), and he rubbished the opposition’s explanation that it cut the money in hopes of getting improved efficiency out of the company.
“What hypocrisy! We told them, we have explained to them that we have not been passing on most of the increase in the price of fuel to our consumers; that the $6B that we proposed for GPL was mainly going to subsidise the fuel that GPL was using,” he said.
He also reiterated that his government is not opposed to cutting the Value-Added Tax (VAT) but it must be done in a scientific way in order to determine the impact. He maintained that with over 100 items already zero-rated, the cut would not assist the low-income earners but will benefit those in the higher earning bracket.
Ramotar, who sat on GuySuCo’s board from 1992 to 2011, spoke about the money the industry lost when the European Union (EU) ended its price support for sugar in the African, Carib-bean & Pacific Countries (ACP). “That had nothing to do with management; that had nothing to do with workers; it was just by a stroke of a pen and the reneging of an agreement that was around for a long time,” Ramotar said.
He added, however, that the PPP/C government managed to avoid some of the worst consequences of the international financial crisis due to the fact that it has been investing in the country’s working people. Should the PPP/C’s record be placed under scrutiny since it took power in 1992, he contended, it would be found that its main thrust has been to bring benefits to all people, and to the working people in particular.
According to Ramotar, Guyana today has the highest amount of investment in the social sector than “any other country in the region and probably one of the best in the whole world.” He also spoke about the investments the government has made in other sectors, such as education—which he said is now bearing fruit—and plans to invest more, as well as projects, such as the Amaila Falls Hydropower project, which, he said, is important to every single Guyanese.
The PPP/C, Ramotar said, has always been a working class party and will continue to serve those people and ensure that they are not disadvantaged. At the same time, he suggested that the division in the labour movement enabled the opposition to cut the budget.
Meanwhile, FITUG Presi-dent Carvil Duncan, like Chand and Ramotar, criticised the budget cuts, and in particular the reduction of the GPL relief package—which he said would result in an increase of electricity charges—and the cut to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC).
Duncan, an executive of the Guyana Labour Union, said that the cuts were “nurtured and created at a meeting held at Pegasus (Hotel) where one man believes that he knows everything and he said to those who were present these are the areas you must cut and they just went back in parliament and they cut.”
Saying that he was “vex bad” over the budget cuts, Duncan said when the budget came out FITUG was the first to say that it was a ‘working people’s budget” and not that it was the best but one that they can live with because next year things could be better. He said none of the other 21 trade unions in the country came out to say anything about the budget.
Duncan added that FITUG will not “stand idle” until proper representation is given to those workers who will know their fate today. “If you have to walk we will walk with you, if you have to run we will run with you [and] we will be with you day come night come, good or bad because you are workers and we have a responsibility to ensure that your economic social life is protected at all times,” he said.
Also, Duncan singled out Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green, saying he is unable to manage the city and workers of the Mayor & City Council (M&CC) have not been paid for last month but he was marching with APNU in the Labour Day march. He recommended to President Ramotar that an Interim Management Council (IMC) should be put in place to run the city, since he has a “moral responsibility to the citizens of Georgetown.”
Duncan, who was formerly a leading light in FITUG’s rival the GTUC, said yesterday’s Labour Day was not one to celebrate as the trade union movement is under attack from the opposition parties that “we have not achieved our workers’ agenda.” He warned that FITUG was not a “school boy” but rather a federation of “matured and intelligent people” who cannot be overturned because when it comes to battle and fight, they know it well. He also said that while he was not “totally satisfied” with the wages being paid to public servants and the pensions they receive, “we have to start somewhere and in fact we have started and we are on the road to success.”
As has been the case in the years following the split of the trade union movement, while all unions marched together, FITUG finished its march at the park while the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) branched off at the Critchlow Labour College, the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) headed to its Woolford Avenue headquarters and the Clerical & Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) marchers congregated at its Quamina Street compound.