Sugar strike continues over API, GuySuCo urges return to work

Sugar workers in sections of the industry downed their tools yesterday for the fourth day in a row over annual incentive talks and GuySuCo yesterday appealed for good sense to prevail.

GAWU members in some parts of the industry said that it is unlikely they will be returning to work should the Guyana Sugar Corporation not make strides in ensuring that retroactive pay is guaranteed while Annual Production Incentive (API) and wage talks are ongoing.

The Albion sugar estate inclusive of factory workers went on strike yesterday following the commencement of industrial action by workers on Saturday.

GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer Errol Hanoman could not be contacted by Stabroek News yesterday for comment but in the afternoon the corporation issued a statement setting out its position.

GuySuCo said that on no less than four occasions over the last three months it had explained to the union’s delegation the dire financial crisis facing the industry. It said it is no secret that the current total revenue is just enough for the payment of wages and salaries to its employees.

Albion sugar workers and GAWU representatives picketed GuySuCo’s offices yesterday.
Albion sugar workers and GAWU representatives picketed GuySuCo’s offices yesterday.

It added that at the second API meeting held on Friday at LBI, the Corporation offered for every 85,000 tonnes sugar produced one day’s pay API. This equated to 2.7 days for the Corporation’s expected year’s production of 233,361 tonnes sugar. GuySuCo said that the union delegation was informed that the Corporation would pay these monies no later than March, 2016 because of financial constraints.

GuySuCo said that the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) then informed that it would not sign an agreement with such a high number of tonnes sugar per day’s pay but had no objection to the Corporation paying the sum to the workers sometime earlier. GuySuCo said that the union further said that it would like to consult with the union’s wider membership on the position put forward. The Corporation had proposed to reconvene yesterday, however, the union said that after their consultation with the wider membership they would get back to the Corporation on the way forward. It was further agreed that the parties would not speak to the press until the matter was concluded.

Despite this, GuySuCo said that on Friday evening  it was reliably informed that the union’s local officer and it representatives were in the villages bordering the East Demerara Estates calling out the workers to strike for one week . GuySuCo said that this become a reality when the workers of that estate responded on Saturday with the cane harvesters withdrawing their labour. Other sections of the industry then proceeded on strike in the days that followed.

GuySuCo said that its Chief Industrial Relations Manager (CIRM) Mr. Sukhu, upon learning what was happening on Saturday morning, spoke to GAWU Head Komal Chand via telephone about the strike. GuySuCo said that Chand denied any knowledge of this and maintained that there will be consultation among the membership. GuySuCo said that Chand was informed that any further disruption across the industry could see a possible withdrawal of the Corporation’s API offer. GuySuCo said that this was put into writing to Chand via letter dated November 23, 2015.

Chand yesterday told Stabroek News that the corporation has always accused the leadership of the union of making the decision to engage in industrial action but this strike was instigated out of pure frustration felt by workers.

The union head said that the way forward may need to be through conciliation with the union seeking the assistance of the Ministry of Social Protection.

Chand said that workers have indicated that they will continue with strike action today together with another round of picketing of GuySuCo’s offices in Berbice. “Workers are very much incensed and frustrated,” Chand stated.

He noted that the corporation spoke of a grim Christmas season and without a date set for retroactive pay, no API consensus and a lack of collective bargaining on wage increases, the corporation was essentially ensuring a grim season for sugar workers and their families.

He stated that “they are frustrated over the minute offer made by GuySuCo”, noting that during Friday’s API discussion the corporation stated that it intended to use 85,000 tonnes of sugar to reflect a day’s pay.

Chand said that the corporation has not responded to the union since the latter proposed a day’s pay be set at 37,125 tonnes, which Chand said has been the average since 2011 for the API talks. GAWU had previously proposed 32,500 tonnes for a day’s pay.

GAWU first wrote GuySuCo on November 9th and GuySuCo responded and called the union for a meeting on the API on November 18th. Subsequently, another meeting was held on Friday.

Reporting on various sections of the industry, GuySuCo yesterday said that Rose Hall cane harvesters on Monday turned out in their numbers but were not required because the factory workers had proceeded on strike.

GuySuCo said that Skeldon workers and their representatives on Monday afternoon informed the estate management to prepare work for the harvesters. The corporation said that workers of Skeldon Estate were at work yesterday harvesting canes.

“We request that the workers be allowed to continue to work, as Skeldon, Albion, and East Demerara have three (3) weeks , Rose Hall four (4) weeks and Blairmont two (2) weeks remaining for the crop. Isn’t it good sense to allow these workers to resume their duties and earn as much as they can over the next 2-4 weeks at their respective estates!” GuySuCo questioned.

GuySuCo added “While we had agreed not to come to the press until the conclusion of the API discussions; we feel compelled to do so as a responsible employer in order to bring the facts to our workers. There comes a time when one will have to look at the reality and make a decision on which side of the fence they wish to sit: the side leading to destruction or the side working for sustainable survival of the industry and therefore security of employment.”

As of yesterday morning, GuySuCo said that the crop’s production was 133,464 tonnes against 146,300 tonnes sugar budgeted and for the year to date 214,607 tonnes. It added that the industry has an opportunity to surpass 150,000 tonnes sugar this crop which was last achieved in the 2nd crop, 2009. It disclosed that workers across the industry have so far earned 66 days’ pay [Weekly Production Incentives] for this crop  and 92 days for the year valued at G$1.043B. Workers should be encouraged to resume normal duties and work towards achieving their respective weekly targets and earning themselves additional incentives over the coming weeks, GuySuCo said.

GAWU said that workers came out in force yesterday to picket GuySuCo’s administrative offices in Berbice.

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