Sugar workers yesterday march-ed from the Albion estate to Port Mourant, Corentyne in solidarity with the employees of the other estates which are expected to be closed or privatized, as part of the government’s White Paper on the industry.
It was the latest in a series of marches and protests across the sugar belt against the government’s restructuring plans.
However, PPP/C Members of Parliament (MPs) and Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) officials told workers and housewives gathered, that they are of the opinion that no estate is safe, once the government gets comfortable with closing down sugar factories.
According to Vishwa Mahadeo, PPP/C MP, “In the long run Albion Estate will be closed also. What they are doing is take one at a time.” He then questioned the government’s credibility, arguing that the present government is known for not keeping their promises.
Mahadeo, who has been present at almost all of the picketing exercises in Berbice, stressed once more, that the closure and privatizing of estates in Region Six will affect the entire county. He stated that while the government is claiming that land for cultivation will be provided to the workers, he queried, “Everyone will plant but who will buy?”
He said that in order for the Government of Guyana to make and act on a decision which will drastically affect the people of Region Six and its economy, they should have done the necessary consultations with the citizens of the region.
Meanwhile, Mahadeo reiterated at the rally that GAWU had put forth to the government a plan of action in order to save the sugar industry, however, he charged that the government bypassed this plan and went ahead with their decision.
The APNU+AFC government has argued that the heavily indebted industry which requires billions in annual subventions and is producing sugar at a cost above the world market price cannot be sustained in its present configuration, hence the closing of estates and other steps.
Komal Chand, GAWU’s President also told the gathering “not to trust” the government officials who claim Albion is safe. “Last year they said that they are going to close LBI cultivation, workshop, all the parts in LBI and they will consolidate it more, make it more strong and let all the workers go to Enmore.” However, he said after that, the government made the decision to close the Enmore and Rose Hall estates and to privatize Skeldon Estate. Chand stated that the Albion sugar workers should be on the alert because eventually the government and GuySuCo may want to close the Albion Estate as well.
He further opined that the closure of estates is a “political decision”. He noted, that government officials have not yet “come to the ground” and explained to the people why they are fighting to close the estates, which provide the citizens of the country with their livelihood.
Chand also spoke of the management of GuySuCo which he said needs to be revamped immediately. He said that the government is attempting to fool the people with the slogan “taxpayers’ money got to bail out the sugar industry.”
According to Chand, many of the workers, who will be left jobless after the closure plans will not qualify for pension. He questioned whether or not the government and GuySuCo took this and other things into consideration before making such a harsh decision.
Meanwhile, Seepaul Narine, GAWU’s General Secretary, who has also been present at all of the protests told the gathering, that if the government is claiming that there are issues with the sugar industry, why not fix the issues instead of rushing to closure, which will directly affect thousands of workers and their families.
He stated that the question lingers if the people will receive the severance pay which they are entitled too. According to Narine, he believes that the government always had the plan of closure and privatization in their back pockets.
He stated that the Skeldon Estate which is equipped with a Co-generation Plant can play a major role in improving the sugar industry in Guyana. He pleaded with the government and GuySuCo to work on improving the sugar factories, noting that with proper maintenance the estates can last and benefit Guyana for years to come.
Guyana Trades Union Congress Head, Lincoln Lewis also spoke at the rally. Guyana Rice Producers Association General Secretary, Dharamkumar Seeraj and Dawchan Nagasar, General Secretary, National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees were also present at the rally.
The Albion sugar workers marched from the estate to the vicinity of the Port Mourant Complex. “United we stand, divided we fall”, was one of the slogans which was shouted throughout the programme.