As one reads the article titled ‘Chand says cooperation needed to resist any bid to reprivatize sugar’ that was published in the Sunday Stabroek on August 28, one gets the impression that Mr Komal Chand is saying some of the right things but in the wrong context. The theme for the recently concluded Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Congress was, ‘United Struggles for Workers’ Rights, Democracy and a Secure Future’. The nine resolutions which were approved by the Congress included, “safeguarding and defending workers’ gains in the sugar industry, rejecting re-privatization and closure of the sugar industry, education and training, unity of the working class, wage/salary improvements and Annual Production Incentives, and solidarity with the workers of Wales Estate”; these were the resolutions which are specific to GuySuCo.
While the militancy of GAWU is commendable, the challenge with the resolutions relevant to GuySuCo and the tone of the Congress from a GuySuCo perspective is, contextual. The impression one gets is that GAWU perceives GuySuCo as a foe and not a friend, hence the very design of the theme and the resolutions are aimed at fighting this foe. GAWU’s approach might have been more appropriate in 1832 but definitely not in a dynamic and changing environment in 2016.
GuySuCo would like to encourage GAWU to be militant and inspire our workers to support their union; however, this militancy has to be in the right context. The resistance is against what and against whom? Against a corporation that provides free medicals for them and their families? Or that is struggling to keep 17,000 employees on its payroll and needs its employees to channel their energies into making it as efficient as possible so that they can contribute towards securing employment for themselves and their colleagues? Against a corporation that provides them with the necessary tools and safety gear to do their jobs in a safe environment? A corporation that provides transportation to take them to and from work every day in keeping with agreements? A corporation that pays wages, salaries and increases even though it is not making a profit? Resistance against an Interim Management Committee that is one year old and is trying to find solutions to a problem that was not created by them but nevertheless, have taken responsibility to lead GuySuCo through these tough times and craft a strategy for a prosperous future?
One would have thought that with the level of awareness that Mr Chand and GAWU have of the challenges facing the sugar industry, the focus of this year’s Congress would have been to motivate and inspire our workers to develop a greater sense of ownership which is fundamental for the successful turnaround of the corporation and to support the five pathways which the corporation has developed to achieve the goals and objectives in its strategic plan. These pathways include mobilization (financial, human, etc); developing skills and expertise; encouraging flexibility and adaptability; improving the industrial relations climate and becoming a highly disciplined business entity.
The call was made by GAWU for workers to stand up and defend their rights; this is no doubt a noble call, however, GuySuCo wishes to remind GAWU that the ‘rights’ message has to be disseminated to workers in the context that ‘rights have responsibilities’. As a matter of fact, rights are only made valid based on the responsibilities which are attached to them. An analysis of the outcomes from the Congress indicates that it fell short on the responsibilities component of the message to our workers. GuySuCo would only be as successful as the sum of its parts and the employees are a key part of the whole.
Another point is that while some of our employees are members of GAWU and the union focuses on the rights of these members, there is need for balance in this engagement since the members of GAWU also have a responsibility to ensure that the rights of other employees who are not members of the union are upheld.
On the point of re-privatization, GAWU would add much value to the process of ensuring the sustainability of GuySuCo by encouraging our workers ‒ its members ‒ instead of channelling their energies and resources towards fighting the corporation. They focus could be on increasing production and productivity ‒ turning out to work on their estates and going the extra mile, being flexible and adapting to the changes and contributing towards the development of a highly disciplined workforce, conforming to appropriate work standards which are imperative for a successful business.
It is obvious that GuySuCo and GAWU have different motives and motivations. The corporation is of the view that the leadership of GAWU needs a paradigm shift; this will pave the way for more positive and progressive engagements with the corporation and its employees and would contribute significantly towards accelerating the growth and development of the sugar industry.
Finally, while GuySuCo does not expect its stakeholders, for example GAWU, to adapt readily and rapidly to all of the changes taking place in the industry, there is a reasonable expectation that the union would understand that the corporation runs a business and has to manage it that way.
Additionally, the corporation is open to engage GAWU when the union settles down and is ready to discuss its realities and possibilities.
Senior Communications Officer