Labour shortage affecting East Demerara cane harvesting

Amidst mounting doubts over the fate of the East Demerara Sugar Estate, GuySuCo says that the poor turnout of cane harvesters is greatly affecting whether there will be sufficient land to plant at the next crop.

“At the moment, we are harvesting and we are having a major challenge as it relates to harvesting and attendance. We are now in the sixth week for the crop and our attendance has been 54.5% in the first week, 44% in the second week, 63.25% in the third week, 54.6% in the fourth week, 60.6% in the fifth week and 63.3% in the sixth week at East Demerara,” a spokesperson, who did not want to be named, explained. It was noted that GuySuCo has only been able to harvest some 21,000 tonnes for the current crop, if it had a larger turnout it might have been able to harvest some 10,000 tonnes more.

“If we can’t take off the crop then we won’t have sufficient lands available to plant. We haven’t been getting the turnout at a satisfactory percentage [70% to 75%]. If we have that across the industry, we would be able to take off the crop and do our plumbing and planting in a timely manner. One thing leads to another,” the spokesperson related.

In addition to labour drastically affecting harvesting, unseasonable rainfall is also affecting the numbers.

Stabroek News had reported that the planters from the East Demerara Estate were offered jobs to harvest and GuySuCo had since explained that such action was taken because of a severe shortage in harvesting labour. However, some workers interpreted it as the sugar company prepping for closure of the estate. When asked whether cane would be planted there again, the official said, “Our planters from the East Demerara Estate are still employed as planters. But because we have had a shortage of labour in harvesting, we asked them to assist in harvesting to help take off what is there.”

As regards the turnout of employees, the official highlighted that the issue was not just at the East Demerara Estate, but all the estates around the country.

“Uitvlugt has been having the lowest turnout. It has been as low as 41% and not higher than 68%. Albion has been doing very well… in the 70% average. Rose Hall has been improving, attendance has been in the high 60s while Blairmont has ranged from the 60s to 40s,” the official pointed out.

“So we are having a huge challenge as it relates to labour. So, when people say we haven’t been taking off the crop at this stage, you can see why. We need to encourage our employees to come out and improve their attendance so we can take off the crop so we can have the maximum output,” the official added.

Last Monday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said in a statement that the cane planters complained over instructions from the Estate’s Management that they would have had to engage in cane cutting operations with immediate effect.

“The workers’ agitation was heightened vis-a-vis the Collective Labour Agreement (CLA) subsisting between the Union and the Corporation which stipulates their usual tasks,” GAWU said.

The workers, it noted, then advised the Estate Management that since all cane planting tasks were no longer available, they were in fact “redundant” and, therefore, entitled to severance pay. However, Audreyanna Thomas, Senior Communications Officer from the Sugar Company, had explained that the cane planters were offered harvesting jobs since there is a need for more labourers to help with the cutting in the first crop.  “East Demerara has a lot of cane left to be harvested and so they need all the hands they could get,” she said, while adding that the company was appalled by the union’s statements even after it constantly claimed that “we are not achieving our targets and we have carryover cane.”

“What is wrong with offering our employees work? Here it is that we are offering work to the cane planters and they went and complained to the union,” Thomas had added.


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