As of Wednesday, 1321 sugar workers of roughly 5000 had flocked the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union Co-operative Credit Union Society Limited offices in Georgetown and Berbice to make withdrawals over concerns about money owed by GuySuCo.
Head of GAWU Komal Chand clarified that many of the workers were not withdrawing their total savings but the amount that was supposed to have been transferred by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) for the month of May. He said that all of the requests have been honoured to showcase that the credit union was committed to workers and their savings.
Chand said that the $154M owed by GuySuCo has ballooned to $188M from June 1 when the corporation was to have ceased deducting from workers’ salaries.
He said that the union has met with GuySuCo’s Interim Management Committee (IMC) and while no commitment was made on when the savings would be paid over he was confident that it would happen. He said “they did not commit themselves on the large sum that is owed to us. I presume they need some time to know what disbursement they will receive and how they will prioritise”, citing the $3.8B government bailout that was reported in Wednesday’s edition of the Stabroek News.
Chand said that at the meeting with the IMC, the union and the credit union told GuySuCo that “we want to continue the credit union business because a lot of workers depended upon it to have savings…they said they understand us, but what we ask them to agree to is for them to promptly transmit current savings to us while they can address what is owed to our credit union.”
Chand did note that to honour the over 1300 requests, the credit union had been forced to borrow money to offset the withdrawals. The head of GAWU did not divulge how much money has been requested by the workers, but he did note that this was the first time in its history that so many workers have made withdrawals. “We got loans from the bank so we have been able to borrow so we anticipated what might be the withdrawal so we borrowed and have that money,” he told this newspaper.
He said that while field work was ongoing and workers’ daily lives were business as usual, the workers who utilised the credit union were very concerned and remained concerned that their saving were in jeopardy. On Monday, 400 workers went to GAWU’s head office seeking to make withdrawals, on Tuesday an additional 325 turned up and on Wednesday 201. In Berbice 115 workers went to GAWU’s offices on Monday with 148 and 132 requesting withdrawals on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.
He said that by acknowledging and not challenging any of the requests the credit union was hoping to showcase that workers’ saving were not in jeopardy.
The head of GAWU told Stabroek News that in addition to the savings owed, GuySuCo still had to speak to the union regarding the annual worker wage increase.
He said that with the impending Commission of Inquiry (CO) into the sugar industry, which could last up to three months, the corporation may seek to resume discussion after the COI is over. However, he noted that discussions generally commenced from the first crop.
Chand said that should the union be invited to join the COI, GAWU would need to discuss the issue at the management level. “We still feel, and this new government it has been reported by them (seems to feel) that all the EU funding did not go to sugar. That coincides with our claim that all the EU funding in the past were not channelled to the sugar industry … so we would like for the government to confirm the number and have the money available for sugar,” Chand stated.
Chand as the head of the union had lobbied hard for the previous government to account for how the $31B that was handed over for the industry by the European Union as the accompanying measures was spent.