Sugar workers’ unions GAWU and NAACIE yesterday announced that the remaining operations at the LBI estate will be shuttered, with implications for some 800 employees, as part of what GuySuCo says is the overdue integration of the East Demerara Estates that began five years ago.
In a joint statement issued yesterday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) expressed surprise at the decision of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to have operations of the field workshop, mill dock, field lab, stores and administrative offices based at the LBI merged with similar operations at Enmore Estate this year.
The unions said the decision was communicated at a meeting on Tuesday between GuySuCo and GAWU and NAACIE delegates, including representatives from the two estates.
“LBI will thereby cease to exist. The company, in effect, is using the term “consolidation” as a guise for the complete closure of LBI,” they said in the joint statement. GAWU and NAACIE added that the closure of the LBI operations would result in over 800 workers who are represented by them being deployed to Enmore Estate where it is “doubtful that they would be offered regular and full work as is the present case at LBI.”
“In this regard, account must be taken that similar operations at Enmore Estate have their own full complement of employees, a situation likened to that at Uitvlugt where Wales Estate workers are to be channeled according to a statements by high-placed authorities and promised regular, permanent employment,” the statement added.
The unions noted that at the closure of the LBI factory five years ago, they were both assured by a member of the current Interim Management that there will be no closure of any other department after the closure of the factory.
“Thus, it was never expected that the Corporation under the same Management could decide to dismantle the costly buildings at LBI Estate and end the operations which it approved about five (5) years ago,” they added.
However, in a subsequent statement GuySuCo said that since 2011 both it and the unions “met with each worker in the LBI factory over a five day period to discuss the closure of the LBI factory and their redeployment. The factory was then closed in the same year and workers redeployed to other positions within the Enmore estate.
The sugar company further noted that in some instances this resulted in the authorised manning levels being exceeded to accommodate the workers.
“GuySuCo and GAWU were fully involved in that process. Yet the integration process was not completed,” it added, while citing the remaining operations at LBI.
“The meeting held on 12 April, 2016 was to discuss the process of completing the integration which will see the Finance and Human Resources Departments moving to Enmore, the consolidation of the mill dock, the field workshop, the stores and the field laboratory from LBI with similar operations at Enmore,” it said, while pointing out that this process should have been completed since 2011 but was not done to the further detriment of the economics of the East Demerara Estates.
It pointed out that the Albion estate produces more than twice the amount of sugar as produced by the East Demerara estates and operates efficiently with a single mill dock, field workshop and field lab. GuySuCo also accused the unions of contradicting the position they expressed at Tuesday’s meeting.
GuySuCo said that it finds it “strange that having been part of the integration process over the years and having made commitments to see the process to completion at recent meetings, the unions would now issue this contradictory statement to the press.”
However, the unions said the corporation did not inform them when the operations are to be closed and did not provide vital information on the future of the workers. “It is a similar experience to that of Wales where the company, to date, has failed to provide full information on the status of the future of 1,700 workers from Wales Estate,” they charged.
On January 18, the government announced that it was closing the Wales Sugar estate after the end of the second crop this year. The decision which was communicated through a press release with no prior warning and left both the estate workers and private farmers reeling. The government and GuySuCo have said that cane for the Wales estate would be processed next year at the Uitvlugt estate on the West Coast of Demerara but the private farmers are skeptical of this. The government and GuySuCo are still to lay out measures to make this feasible and the Minister with responsibility for Agriculture Noel Holder is still to meet with the workers to address their concerns although Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo has said that the government had not properly informed workers of the impending closure.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo decried the closure of the LBI estate yesterday.
Jagdeo, who was President in 2011 when the decision was taken to “integrate” the operations of the East Demerara Estates, called the closure “another act that reflects the secretive approach characteristic of the APNU+AFC government, in relation to decisions that affect the lives of thousands of ordinary Guyanese.”
“In the last year, we have come to expect that the government will make decisions that affect the Guyanese people in a manner that lacks transparency and without consultations. I had warned that the callous and uncaring decision to close the Wales Sugar Estate was not the end of the reform proposed and being advance by APNU+AFC in the sugar industry. I had said that Wales Sugar Estate was the first casualty. I am deeply disturbed by this news and will be seeking greater details on this issue,” Jagdeo said in a statement.