Sugar to end at dismal 140,000 tonnes – GAWU

-lowest since 1990

According to the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the 2017 sugar production figure will not exceed 140,000 tonnes.

This is significantly less than the 152,000 tonnes projected by government and 23% less that the 183,000 tonnes produced in 2016.  The first crop figure this year was 49,600 tonnes.

In an end-of-year press statement yesterday, GAWU stated that as of December 16, 2017, sugar production for the year stood at 137,233 tonnes and is unlikely to top 140,000 tonnes since cane cutting has ceased. Such a yield would mean 2017 has produced the lowest tonnage since 1990 when 129,920 tonnes of sugar was produced.

“For us of the GAWU the excitement which greeted the 231,000 tonnes sugar production in 2015, has now come crashing down as production has plummeted by over 40% between then and now,” the statement noted.

The union cast blame for this “dramatic decline of the industry” at the corporation  leadership whose stewardship they argue is questionable. GAWU further claimed that while Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo’s) management has sought to blame poor yields on the workers and the union at least two ministers of government have contradicted this assertion.

Reference was made to Finance Minister, Winston Jordan’s 2018 Budget address in which he stated that almost 22,000 man days were lost to strike action as well as Minister Keith Scott’s statement that strikes “have declined by 49.1 percent…the lowest number of strikes the industry has recorded”. It was explained that for an industry with 16,000 workers, a loss of 22,000 man days meant that each worker would have struck a little more than a day.

“The Ministers’ statements have clearly thrown a wet blanket on the Corporation’s insincere rationale. In view of the Minister’s explanations, our Union is eager to see what excuse the Corporation will use to defend what clearly is a miserable production,” GAWU concluded.

The union also called out government on its projected production for 2018. The Budget speech noted that sugar production will reach 115,447 tonnes in 2018 from the three estates that will remain under GuySuCo’s management. However according to GAWU those three estates have produced aggregately 88,116 tonnes sugar up to last weekend. The projected yield therefore represents a 31% improvement in 2018.

GAWU noted that such a yield would be a magnificent improvement even as they questioned whether it is grounded in reality.

Pay increases

The union also called out the management of GuySuCo for failing to offer sugar workers pay increases in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

“Adding insult to injury, the workers have seen the arbitrary withdrawal of several long-standing benefits; the denial of an Annual Production Incentive (API) payment in 2016 for the first time in 64 years; the disrespect to time-honoured practices and norms, and the open and clear flouting of our laws, the Constitution of Guyana and even international conventions. Added to this is the deafening silence from the Administration which seemingly has given its tacit seal of approval,” GAWU stated.

They further noted that over that same period workers real wages have declined by as much as 6% while nominal incomes, have fallen as well.

“According to the GuySuCo’s Financial Statements for year-ended 2016, workers’ nominal incomes have declined over 15 per cent between 2015 and 2016. In monetary terms, we have computed from the financial statements, that each worker on average took home $182,500 less in 2016 than they did in 2015. This is a steep decline in just one year and undoubtedly impacted workers quality of life,” the union argues.

In contrast the financial statements, according to GAWU reveal that remuneration relating to the Corporation’s top-most personnel has risen by just over 80% to $717 million in 2016.

Additionally while GuySuCo argues that their actions are due to decreasing profits its 2016 financial statements revealed that the Corporation recorded a profit of $905 million in 2016.

“For the GAWU this is intriguing considering that production in 2016 stood at just over 183,000 tonnes sugar, a 26% decline from the previous year. We also found it interesting, that contrary to the Corporation’s tear shedding, the average price GuySuCo received for sugar rose by nearly 20% in 2016. Had the Corporation realized its original 242,000 tonne target in 2016, revenues would have been $5.6B higher,” the union argues adding that had the sale of the Skeldon Co-Generation plant been reversed as recommended by the Commission of Inquiry into the Sugar Sector GuySuCo’s revenues would have been enhanced by at least $9.5 billion more.

“In other words, Government’s $11 billion subvention to GuySuCo may not have been required and the Corporation would have been in an even more profitable state,” they stressed concluding that the data serves to indicate that all is not lost and the Corporation is seeking to make a mountain out of a molehill.

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