GAWU slams GuySuCo plan to lay off 2,500 by yearend

With GuySuCo retrenching 2,500 more workers by the end of the year, the main sugar union GAWU has again appealed for it to rethink the closure of estates.

Earlier this year, GuySuCo announced that factory operations would end at the East Demerara Estate, Rose Hall and Skeldon and that cane operations would be amalgamated. The 2,500 jobs to be lost from the 17,000-strong industry would come on top of hundreds more from the Wales estate who were made redundant at the end of last year. The planned layoffs would be the single largest in decades.

Yesterday, Head of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand, said the Union is still of the opinion that it is not too late for the sugar company to rethink the closure of several estates and avoid the mass loss of jobs.

At a press conference on Friday held by the sugar company which featured the Finance Director and Deputy CEO, Paul Bhim; Technical Services General Manager, Yusuf Abdool; Chief Industrial Relations Manager, and the Head of the Agriculture and Research Center Gavin Ramnarine  and Public Relations Officer, Audreyanna Thomas,  the announcement was made that 2,500 workers would be made redundant by the end of December.

Komal Chand

Thomas reiterated  that moving forward, GuySuCo would be focusing on the development of three estates – Albion, Uitvlugt and Blairmont.

With respect to the Skeldon, Rose Hall, Wales and East Demerara Estates, Thomas said that the Special Purpose Unit that was established by the Government is still currently inviting investors to submit Expressions of Interest (EOI) as it relates to their divestment and diversification.

Thomas said that the sugar company will be using a new business model for the three estates, with Albion focusing on bulk sugar, plantation white sugar, cogeneration and molasses; Blairmont focusing on bagged and packaged sugar with an option of this being expanded if sugar prices are favourable while Uitvlugt will be focusing on bagged and plantation white sugar.

Thomas cited the market as the reason for the change in the business model and also stated that they still have some preferential markets such as  CARICOM and North America that they can tap into.

“Moving forward, GuySuCo is a business and we have to eventually progress the corporation to a point it is run and managed as a business hence the whole question of improving the integrity of the value chain from the cultivation, in terms of planting, all the way to production and then selling the sugar to the customers,” Thomas said.

As such, she explained that the intention is to ensure that the company becomes a profitable one by 2020, which will see them reduce their dependence on government subventions.

While the sugar company has some 17,000 workers currently, Thomas related that they will only need 10,000 to work with the three estates which will remain, however, additional workers would be needed for support as they have established an Alternative Livelihoods Programme.

The programme will see services that are currently being provided on contract, shift to workers who would’ve been made redundant, hence giving them opportunities to continue working alongside the estates.

Thomas also pointed out that they are looking to start a massive skills training programme where they will be training longstanding employees in different areas. “So what we are attempting to do is reskill employees, those who would remain redundant so they can be involved in other areas,” Thomas noted, while adding they are currently working with consultants to work out the logistics of the programme.

A third aspect of the programme is developing sustainable communities to ensure that the “sugar dependent” communities can build resilience and survive while the estates are slowly phased out.

In an invited comment, Chand said that despite the announcement by the sugar company, the union was not consulted and told about the developments.

“We should’ve been called in the beginning and be briefed and they should’ve heard the union’s comments. That didn’t happen,” he said, while stating that it was even more perplexing since the union and the company are currently in talks about the retrenchment of workers at the East Demerara Estate.

When questioned about the union’s position on the imminent retrenchment of 2,500 workers, Chand said that they still believe that the sugar company could find a way forward and avoid the closure of the four estates.

“It’s not too late and we still believe that we ought to meet all the stakeholders and find a way forward,” he told Stabroek News.

Referencing the current situation in Wales, where the  community’s economy has plummeted, Chand said that the other communities will suffer the same way if there is to be a mass retrenchment of workers. He said it will have serious repercussions on family lives and the upcoming generation by extension, since breadwinners of families will be out of jobs.

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