Sugar workers were told last Thursday that they must stand united in the fight and let their voices be heard in hopes of ensuring that the Rose Hall estate stays in operation.
The call was made by General Secretary for the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Seepaul Narine, at a public meeting held in Canefield Settlement, East Canje Berbice.
According to Narine, the estate stands a chance mainly because no effort has been made to begin dismantling any part of the factory.
While the rain poured all day in the Canje Area, workers still turned out in their numbers to listen to the union.
Narine relayed that the union is looking at different ways to challenge the government and the Guyana Sugar Corporation on the closure and privatisation plan. “All I can tell you at this time is that we are talking to our lawyers to see what possibility could be explored. We are looking at all the options,” he assured the sugar workers gathered.
He further encouraged them not to give up, “… If we sit down and tell ourselves it’s all gone then it will go,” he cautioned.
Narine once more highlighted the backlash that has met the planned closure of the Rose Hall Estate, while noting that it will not only affect the present generation but generations of the future.
Narine further questioned whether all the workers who will be rendered jobless will receive severance pay.
He then stated that the officials are saying that they will lease lands to the workers. However, he questioned whether the plan would become a reality once the estate is closed, or if workers will be left to find their way on their own. Narine also asked whether the workers have the desire and skill to farm for a living,
Meanwhile, he touched a bit on the Enmore Estate, while noting that the last day workers are expected to work is on November 11. Narine told the gathering that come November 11, some 2,000 students will be graduating from the University of Guyana. He then asked, “Where are the jobs for them?” while noting that they are joining the large number of “unemployed” persons in the country.
It was also highlighted during the public meeting that business owners, hire care drivers and other persons will also feel the brunt of the closure of the estates.
Canje business owners have started to complain as the expected closure approaches. Many shop owners in Canje, who were also present at the meeting, told Stabroek News that most of their customers are sugar workers. The shop owners are worried about the fate of their businesses once the estate is closed and workers are left without an income.
Meanwhile, sugar workers are also puzzled about their next step after the closure of the estate. One man told this publication, “Unto now them na tell we exactly what them got plan for we”.
Among the questions on the minds of many workers are: Where will they seek employment? How long will their severance payments last? Whose jobs will be saved at the estate? Will they be able to earn enough to provide for their families?
The closure of the Rose Hall and Enmore estates are part of the government’s planned scale back of the sugar corporation’s operations in order to make it more sustainable.