Sugar workers today protested across the industry over a variety of issues including pay and the ending of sugar cultivation at the Wales Estate
A statement from the sugar union, GAWU follows:
Sugar workers across the industry today (October 17, 2016) engaged in protest action calling on the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) to engage the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) in good faith bargaining with respect to improvements in pay and conditions of work. At a meeting on October 13, 2016, the Corporation was non-committal on the issue of pay rise. When asked pointedly whether provisions had been made for improvements in pay, GuySuCo’s representative said none had been made but adjustments could be made to facilitate an increase.
The Union and the workers are apprehensive that the Corporation is once again seeking to deny a pay rise for 2016. The workers have rightly pointed out that unlike other state workers who have benefitted and will benefit from pay rises in 2015 and 2016, though those increases fell below their expectations, the sugar workers have been excluded and are seemingly being deemed as ‘second class citizens’. It can be safe to say that the standard-of-living of the sugar workers and their families have deteriorated in the face of the rising cost-of-living. We remind that the Ministry of Finance’s 2016 Mid-Year Report pointed out that food prices rose by 3.2 per cent in the first half of this year.
The GAWU notes that while the sugar corporation sees the wisdom and necessity to invest and improve its physical capital, similar and even greater emphasis needs to be placed on its workers – its human capital. Our Union recognizes that the GuySuCo’s seeming stance to deny pay rises to the workers is having a debilitating effect on morale and commitment in the industry, important elements for the industry’s turnaround.
At this time too, workers noted that employment costs in the industry are expected to be slashed by as much as $2.5B, a staggering 13 per cent, this year (2016) while, at the same time, the top-most echelon of the Corporation’s hierarchy are benefitting to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. They noted these developments, disadvantageous to workers, are occurring at a time of improving sugar prices, better productivity and some progress in the industry’s financial standing.
The workers also used today’s protest to register, once more, their strong disagreement over the decision to close Wales Estate and to express their solidarity with their compatriots. The closure decision, they hold, is a step in the wrong direction and will condemn the thousands – workers, spouses, children and other near ones – who are dependent on that estate’s operations to unimaginable hardships and misery. Workers also raised their voices against the rollback of time-honoured and long-standing practices such as GuySuCo’s denial of paid-release for workers to attend the Union’s Congress and union meetings; the denying of workers to attend Union-sponsored courses during the cropping periods; the denial of transportation assistance for workers to attend union activities; the withdrawal of pro-rated Weekly Production Incentive (WPI) awards; the denial of Collective Bargaining in 2015; a pitiful 2015 API award, among other things.
To further highlight their concerns, workers staged a number of picketing exercises outside the Administrative Offices of the various Estates bearing placards which carried the following slogans:-
- Why are sugar workers discriminated against?
- Treat sugar workers fairly – we are also Government Employees
- Workers co-operating and producing, time for serious talks with GAWU
- GuySuCo stop pussyfooting, engage in good-faith bargaining
- Sugar workers deserve pay rise
- No to closure and sell out of estates!
- GuySuCo – respect our rights and benefits!
At this time, the GAWU urges the Corporation to engage the Union in good-faith negotiations with the view to find a reasonable settlement to the workers’ pay rise question this year. Continuing dialogue will be necessary to address the other concerns of the workers. The current approach is not helpful to the process and can very well lead to greater disharmony and discontent among the workers and we implore the Corporation and those who give direction to quickly abandon this course.