Sugar workers, Enmore residents march against closure of East Demerara Estate

While neither GuySuCo nor the government has said anything officially about a closure of the East Demerara Estate (Enmore and La Bonne Intention), workers and residents are already protesting what the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is referring to as a planned closure.

GAWU said yesterday that a large contingent of East Demerara Estate workers, accompanied by residents, marched through the Enmore community and along the Railway Embankment to Enterprise, some four miles away to call attention to the plight of the workers and demonstrate their strong opposition to a closure.

The union, in a statement, noted that the Enmore estate, which employs some 2,222 persons, is currently a major source of employment and plays a significant role in maintaining the rural economy of many communities throughout the East Coast Demerara.

Sugar workers and others marching yesterday (Photo courtesy of GAWU)

It added that the East Demerara Estate occupies an important place in the sugar industry as it possesses the larger of the industry’s two sugar packaging plants. It also reminded that GuySuCo receives its highest return on packaged sugar and that the estate’s mechanisation programme is far advanced, with many of its field operations able to be done mechanically.  Further, it said only a few months ago, certain operations of LBI and Enmore Estates were merged in an effort to enhance efficiency, improve productivity and reduce costs therefore any decision or proposal to close the estate was bewildering.

It also noted that the union was strongly against the closure and sell-out of any sugar estates. “At this time, when the employment situation in our country is growing even more difficult and our foreign exchange earnings [are]… threatened, policies and decisions which would worsen the situation would be reckless. The GAWU also believes that the industry is more than capable of overcoming its present difficulties,” GAWU said.

The union acknowledged that no official announcement about a closure has been made but claimed that all indications were that the process to close the estate had started.

Although it did not state what those indications were, the union previously identified several signs of impending closure. On March 20, the union announced that a group of 40 cane planters were told by GuySuCo that there was no work for them at the East Demerara Estate, which it called a sure sign that the estate “is being geared for closure.”

In its March 20 statement, GAWU said that the workers’ agitation was heightened vis-a-vis the Collective Labour Agree-ment (CLA) subsisting between the union and the corporation which stipulates their usual tasks.” The union also noted that the workers 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.

In responding to this claim, company spokeswoman Audreyanna Thomas had said that cane planters from the East Demerara Estate (Enmore and La Bonne Intention) had been asked to do harvesting because of the lack of labourers at estates across the country.

Asked at that time if the estate would be closing in the future, Thomas related that the decision would lie with the government.

The union, however, continued to highlight what it referred to as signs of closure and on March 29 announced that the workers engaged in the applying of fertilizers to the canes of the East Demerara Estate were informed that they were no longer required to apply fertilizers and instead the female workers were required to weed and the male workers were 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 union added.

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