Sugar unions GAWU and NAACIE today urged the government and GuySuCo to reconsider the plan to end sugar cultivation at the Wales estate.
A statement from the unions follow:
Our Unions – the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), and the Guyana Labour Union (GLU) – noting that the indicated closure of the renowned Wales Estate by the Coalition Government is nearing considers it incumbent on us to once more warn of that clearly ill-considered and unwise decision.
Our Unions, the workers and many Guyanese, among others, have strongly decried this decision imposed in January, this year (2016) by the APNU/AFC Government without consultation with us (the Unions) and the workers who will be gravely affected. It is widely felt with justification that the closure would have disastrous effects on the workers and their families, cane farmers, the communities of the West Bank of Demerara and, naturally, the economy of the country. It is indeed regrettable that the Government and its Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) are not listening to the anxious cries of many of our citizens and rescind the infamous decision. To compound the callousness of the decision-makers it must be noted that they have not even bothered to pursue any known study to ascertain the likely impact and to consider alleviation measures although some ten (10) months have elapsed since the decision was leaked in the Guyana Times.
So far, just about ninety (90) workers, last September, got their redundancy payments after an unnecessary delay. The remaining workers, at this time, are apprehensive about their fate. As the closure time draws closer, the workers have no intimation when the Corporation’s hierarchy will approve their redundancy payments. It is so sad that some 1,600 of the State’s employees, taking into account those who have already received their redundancy pay, are being treated so shabbily even as they face the grim prospect of being forced into the swelling ranks of the unemployed.
It is opportune to enquire too about the future of the 2,500 hectares of cane lands and the soon-to-be redundant sugar factory. Concern must be raised also about the farmers cane cultivation on their hundreds of hectares of expensively prepared land and the obvious hardships that lay ahead. So far, we hear that Wales would be the starting point for the Corporation’s non-sugar ventures. The nation will recall that similar ventures in the past were met with negative results. It should be again noted that there has been no published study by the Government or GuySuCo about the potential of the announced ventures which may be contemplated by the Government.
On this score, we wish to also draw attention to the Economic and Finance Report of the Sugar Commission of Inquiry (CoI) authored by current Chairman of GuySuCo, Professor Clive Thomas who explicitly recommended that the other crops be first pursued outside of GuySuCo lands. Moreover, the Agricultural Report of the CoI pointed out that the cultivation of other crops will not be able to absorb the displaced labour from the scaling down of cane growing.
The Government and GuySuCo in announcing the closure of Wales Estate, had committed that by October 01, 2016 that at least one venture would have been established. That notwithstanding we are still being told about plans and studies. The latest venture coming to our attention is that a trial for seed paddy would be pursued on a portion of the cane cultivation and, thereafter, a decision would be made on full-fledged production. We find GuySuCo’s entry into the rice industry very perplexing given the current situation prevailing in the rice sector. Here we wish to point to the Ministry of Finance’s mid-year Economic Report 2016 which advised that rice production for the first half of 2016 fell by 26.2 per cent when compared with the first half of 2015. Government and GuySuCo spokespersons have also spoken about ventures into aquaculture, cattle rearing and orchard fruits. These initiatives, it is said, are still being studied so it seems that implementation, if at all, will be sometime from now.
Indeed, the seeming scant attention paid to this major issue is cause for concern and worry. Many Wales workers are unsure of their future employment at this time. GuySuCo is seeking the co-operation of many workers to accept transfers to Uitvlugt Estate, some 22 miles away. The unreasonable additional travelling time, among other factors, will be burdensome for the workers apart from the question of the absorptive capacity of Uitvlugt.
During an interaction, a few weeks ago, between the Wales Estate management and some of the Union’s shop stewards of the estate, a senior GuySuCo official was reported to have said that the future of Uitvlugt Estate would be reviewed in the future. This raises the question of the plans being contemplated for Uitvlugt in the near or medium term. This is indeed surprising and of concern especially since we are told that efforts are being made to safeguard sugar production at Uitvlugt.
We, the Unions operating in the industry again strongly urge the Government and GuySuCo that it is not too late to re-consider the closure of Wales Estate decision and thus avoid the harsh repercussions the closure will have on hundreds and hundreds of workers and their families; on numerous farmers, and on small vendors, apart from other effects.