Over 2,400 workers of the Rose Hall Estate, Canje fear being displaced amid reports about the entity going out of cane operations under the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) diversification plans.
The Sunday Stabroek of November 13 carried a news item in which the Chairman of GuySuCo, Dr. Clive Thomas said that other estates would soon be diversified and “the Blairmont, Albion and we have already committed to Uitvlugt… as well as Enmore which was already merged with the East Demerara Estate” would “definitely be retained.”
When asked specifically about the Rose Hall Estate, Thomas confirmed that it has been “marginalized.”
Based on Thomas’ comment, former President, Donald Ramotar told SN that: “From all the evidence before us, it is clear that this regime is moving to deliberately run down the industry to sell it or shut it. This will be a worst disaster than the closing of the railways in the 1970s.”
A worker at the Rose Hall Estate for over 30 years told SN that they [workers] feel threatened about “job security because there are no job opportunities in the area. Where would we go and work?”
He said too: “We depend on this work to maintain our families. Since we heard that GuySuCo would close the Rose Hall estate and move the operations to Albion we start to worry.
If that is the plan they need to meet with us and tell us… But the Albion Estate does not have the capacity to absorb the cane.”
The man further pointed out that, “If the Albion Estate is to increase its capacity to meet the true potential, it does not have any slack to take any additional cane from Rose Hall. It means therefore that Rose Hall would have to be closed…”
He feels that the Rose Hall Estate has been “performing creditable well and never had any complaint. I am at a loss as to why they would close.”
In an invited comment, an official from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), told SN that he had also heard rumours that the estate would close if it does not perform.
The Wales Estate will be the first to go out of cane operations at the end of this crop. Workers were only informed about this move when the Ministry of Agriculture made the announcement via a release to the media in January this year.
Diversification plans were later announced and GuySuCo will start with the cultivation of rice mainly to be used as “seed paddy.”
Wales, according to him, is a “pilot estate and we’re testing the diversification options there… We would try to encourage the farmers to participate in that by offering them the land.”
GuySuCo also has plans to develop a number of industries in the agricultural sector including the processing of fruits and fruit juices, the establishment of a pasteurization plant as well as aquaculture and apiculture.
He said recommendations were made for diversification into food crops, livestock and milk production.
He noted too that: “Experts came in to help develop the feasibility studies for projects” such as for biogas and fish feed.
Meanwhile, the statement about the Wales Estate closure came as a surprise since the Commission of Inquiry into GuySuCo had not recommended that any estate be closed although Wales and Uitvlugt on the West Demerara were seen as the two most vulnerable.
Contending that it was impossible to make sugar production at Wales viable, It was argued in the statement that closing the estate would allow improvements to be carried out on better performing estates.
Efforts by the GAWU and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to challenge the move were unsuccessful, as GuySuCo has already started to put diversification plans in place.
Some 1,600 workers have been affected, with some being made redundant while some have been absorbed at the Uitvlugt Estate and others have accepted severance.
A few days after the announcement was made, Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo, Errol Hanoman had stated that the closure of no other estate was planned.
But in April this year, GAWU, the main sugar union and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) were invited to a meeting with GuySuCo and were shocked to learn that the operations of the Field Workshop, Mill Dock, Field Lab, Stores, and Administrative Offices that are based at LBI Estate would be merged with similar operations at Enmore Estate during this year and LBI closed.
The government has said that further announcements are due on the sugar industry before the end of this year. These announcements are likely in the budget presentation for 2017 on November 28.