PPP/C will support, but not lead sugar workers’ protest – Jagdeo

The PPP/C continues to engage workers across the country to discuss sugar’s future, but will not initiate any protests, though it will support such moves, Leader Bharat Jagdeo has said.

“We are not organizing the sugar workers’ protest… We hope that they will… because the party will support them as we supported… other protest actions. I urge them to show their displeasure,” Jagdeo told Stabroek News yesterday.

He said while the party was very concerned about events such as the stoppage of fertilizing works in some sugar cane fields, which the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) complained about yesterday, he would not want to organize protests lest the issue became political instead of industrial.

“We have pointed this out and we have said to the workers that they need to show their displeasure. I have said that to them: the same way the parking meter in Georgetown triggered a response from people of every race and political persuasion, because their livelihoods were threatened, then so too should they express express displeasure about the government’s actions in the sugar belt and that peaceful protest, that has been demonstrated so often in the city, on various issues, is one sure way of getting government’s attention,” the PPP leader asserted.

“GAWU is the union in the sugar industry so they are basically the representative of sugar workers. If the PPP were to take the initiative, as they have done in so many other cases, they would brand the protest a political protest and not industrial action as they have done in the city. I do not want the government to use that as an excuse to brand a legitimate protest about people who are concerned about their livelihood… political when it is a bread and butter issue.”

Yesterday GAWU complained that it was seeing more signs that estates will be closed, pointing to the stoppage of workers by GuySuCo, in fertilizing cane fields.

“This morning [yesterday], the workers engaged in the applying fertilizers to the canes of East Demerara Estates [Enmore and LBI] visited our Head Office and met with the union’s General Secretary, Cde Seepaul Narine. The workers related that the estate management informed them that they are no longer required to apply fertilizers,” GAWU said in a press release.

“The female workers are required to weed and the male workers are required to harvest canes. Every day we see the signs of closure becoming clearer. The workers are opposed to closure and have pointed out that they would be unable to find jobs should the decision be fully pursued,” the statement added.

Earlier this month, cane planters at the estate said they were told that there was no work for them.

Jagdeo said the move was one of many that government is using to deceive the public on its real intentions for the sugar industry.

“The government… says different things at different times. We have heard [Minister of State Joseph] Harmon say that they are preparing a white paper which will be tabled in the National Assembly which will outline their decisions on the future of the sugar industry. It is by implication saying that they have not made all the decisions pertaining to sugar and the National Assembly will be inform-ed. That holds out the possibility of a debate in the parliament,” Jagdeo stated.

“Subsequently, [Prime Minister Moses] Nagamootoo goes to the Canje Martyrs’ event and announces the closure of Rose Hall Estate. So now before that white paper has gone to the National Assembly, he says that. He also says we are going to keep the fields open and just the factories will be closed but we heard from the ground that they stopped fertilizing in the Berbice area, Canje. On the East Coast, they have stopped the maintainece of the field and the planting of cane. We believe that it is not just the closure of the factory but they will eventually run down the fields and that would lead to the closure of the fields… all of this points to a pattern of deceit and subterfuge to close the industry,” he added.

He said that his party remains adamant in its position that closure of estates was not the way since there would be not only an economic backlash but also social ramifications to be faced.

Referring to calls his party has made for an economic feasibility study to be done on the sugar industry, the former president said that if government was “not so shortsighted and vindictive” it would acquiesce and see reason with his argument when the evaluation of the study was completed.

“We believe that such a feasibility study would show that in dollar terms it is more viable to keep the industry alive and all the estates open…,” he said.


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