Head of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand says that mechanisation and manual labour have to go hand-in-hand if the sugar sector is to see a turnaround.
Asked if he believed that mechanisation was successful and about the future for workers if the country continued down this path, Chand told Stabroek News that it was not a black and white story. Chand acknowledged that because the labour force was dwindling and alternative solutions have to be sought, mechanisation was the logical solution at this point. He, however, maintained that both manual and mechanical labour are imperative to the success of the sugar industry. “It is a story where they have to complement each other,” he explained.
According to Chand, the reality of the current situation is that there has been a mass exodus of manual labourers and that the backbreaking work that is cane harvesting is not for everyone. He said there has been a direct move away from the field work and as people are given more opportunities in other sectors, cane harvesting was becoming less of an option.
As a result of the inadequate labour force that the industry is contending with, he added that the procurement of cane harvesters and bell loaders is necessary for cutting and loading cane. “GuySuCo has, due to necessity, been moving in this direction for some time,” he said.
He said that the Skeldon estate was a primary example of the need for cohesion between mechanisation and manual labour. “The working population cannot sustain the Skeldon factory,” Chand stated, while adding that the recent weather, which has held up grinding since its scheduled August 5th start date, has manipulated the available amount of opportunity days. At the same time, the troubles facing Skeldon are seen by critics as demonstrative of dependence on mechanisation not being the solution.
The reality of the situation may mean that harvesting schedules have to be reworked and the next GuySuCo strategic plan will have to address this issue.
He also emphasised that drainage had to be properly assessed, explaining that the land had to be kept to ensure that wet conditions dissipated as quickly as possible to make the use of machines feasible quickly. Chand said this would also assist the workers who need the fields to be in a manageable state in order to trek in and out.
After the delayed start of grinding at the Skeldon estate, GuySuCo is now hoping to begin operations tomorrow, if the weather permits. Skeldon cane harvesters, however, are doubtful. For the past five weeks, they have been shuttled to Blairmont because the weather has not been conducive to harvesting at Skeldon.