Talks to resume today towards ending sugar industry strike

– Albion downs tools in solidarity

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) will continue talks today towards finalising the terms of resumption that will see sugar workers back on the job as soon as possible.

GAWU President Komal Chand told Stabroek News that the talks were postponed until later in the afternoon yesterday with GuySuCo requesting additional time to prepare.

Later yesterday, GuySuCo Human Resources Manager Jairam Petam told Stabroek News that the two sides had failed to reach an agreement and are scheduled to meet again today at noon. “Hopefully, we should be able to reach an agreement for the strike to be called off,” he said.

Meanwhile, as talks were postponed at the Labour Ministry, workers at the Albion estate went on strike in solidarity with Skeldon workers.

Stabroek News was told that today workers at Rose Hall would up the ante striking alongside Albion and Skeldon.

Chand stated that some workers did return to work at Skeldon following an incident on Friday between a worker and Estate Manager Dave Kumar, which resulted in the worker, Stephen Daniels being issued a dismissal letter.

However, Chand said, the “inadequate hands” meant that while the factory at Skeldon did attempt to grind, the 1,130 punts that were left abandoned in the back dam following the strike action on Saturday were yet to be loaded.

There was no harvesting or grinding done at Albion yesterday.

The union head said that during talks with GuySuCo at the Labour Ministry yesterday neither side was able to come to a comprehensive decision as to what the terms of resumption would be. GAWU remains firm that the dismissal letter be withdrawn and Daniels reinstated at work.

Meanwhile, GuySuCo, which was represented at the talks by Chief Executive Officer Raj Singh, is holding firm that the dismissal should stand. Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy told Stabroek News that while he did not wish to prejudice the ongoing discussions it was “critical that we end this impasse… both sides will have to agree to the resumption terms.”

This newspaper understands that the Labour Ministry was lobbying to have workers return to work, while an investigation into the incident proceeds. The union agrees that an investigation needs to be conducted. However, workers did not seem keen on returning to work while the investigation was in process.

The union is alleging that on Friday night Kumar was intoxicated during a heated verbal exchange with Daniels.

Daniels told this newspaper that while reporting the episode to his supervisor, he was again approached by Kumar, who allegedly rushed at him. He said he attempted to bar himself and accidentally struck Kumar, who claimed he was cuffed. Another verbal exchange took place and the manager at that point called security guards to escort Daniels off the work site. Daniels was served with a dismissal letter the next day.

GuySuCo, however, has denied the allegation and Petam said yesterday that evidence was available that Kumar was not intoxicated. He claimed that Daniels was the aggressor.

GuySuCo had said in a release that Kumar, during his usual night visit to the factory and mill dock, met a group of workers, including Daniels, who were malingering in the vicinity of the mill dock. It said Daniels became abusive toward the estate manager after he told him to report to his workstation.

GuySuCo charged that Daniels subsequently approached Kumar in a hostile manner, and in the process struck him in his face. It also said that the episode was witnessed by the Agriculture Manager and a Supernumerary Constable, who denied that Kumar was drunk.

It is estimated that over 2,000 field and factory workers have gone on strike as a result of the incident. Chand told Stabroek News previously that such a strike was unprecedented and he could not recall when an incident would have caused such provocation that workers from all lines of employment went on strike simultaneously.

Given the sugar industry’s current precarious situation, a long-term strike could be detrimental to it meeting its sugar target and fulfilling contractual obligations.