GuySuCo’s desire to put profits above people will destroy the well-being of thousands

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) wishes to respond to a letter from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) appearing in the March 30, Stabroek News written by the company’s Senior Communications Officer, Ms Audreyanna Thomas.

The corporation’s spokeswoman, in her missive, spoke about the need for continuous employment of the Wales workers. Our union finds the GuySuCo statement to be most superficial and simply not reflective of the real situation obtaining in the industry. It is GuySuCo, the state-owned company, which closed Wales Estate and has put hundreds on the breadline. Additionally, it is the very GuySuCo which is advocating further miniaturization of the industry through further estate closures and sell-outs. We ask, how can the same GuySuCo expect its statement to be reasonably accepted in view of the harsh measures it is meting out to sugar workers and the industry?

Additionally, Ms Thomas in the letter in referring to the Wales workers said: “…the obvious choice for the corporation is to transfer its employees…” The statement is bold and clear, and confirms our union’s view that the corporation’s intent is to transfer the 300-odd workers from Wales to Uitvlugt. The reference previously to the payment of disturbance allowance, which we debunked, was mere smoke and mirrors. Here again, we must reiterate that the corporation’s intent is contrary to the laws of the land and our union cannot countenance the perpetration of an illegality.

Ms Thomas has omitted to mention too that the 300-odd workers demanded, on their own volition, their severance pay and  the GuySuCo officials who met with them at Wales Estate in December, 2016 agreed they were entitled to same and thus copies of their ID cards were made by the corporation to process their payments.

The corporation then goes on to espouse some of the non-wage benefits it offers. GuySuCo should hang its head in shame to call attention to the benefits it listed. For those who aren’t aware we hasten to point out that the sugar company is advocating the closure of its dispensaries and other health care facilities by year-end. GuySuCo is also actively considering the closure of its Training Centre at Port Mourant, an institution which offered so many poor and disadvantaged youths a second chance at a ‘Good Life’. The institution is highly regarded and is often labelled the best technical training school in the Caribbean region. The many, many students who attended the centre would be most saddened as it will be a great loss for Guyanese, especially for the up and coming generations of youth.  It seems Ms Thomas may not be aware of the plans of her bosses.

Ms Thomas’s reference to Uitvlugt Estate labour turnout is another sad attempt to justify its wrong position to compel the workers of Wales to go to Uitvlugt, contrary to existing law and practice to which we have referred over and over again. GuySuCo needs to find out why it is that work is available and the turnout is not where it should be. An examination may be revealing. Elementary labour supply theory tells us that a worker’s willingness to work is influenced by his/her wage rate. This notion is very much prevalent in contemporary GuySuCo.  The corporation’s anti-worker policy of not granting pay rises for two years now, the denial of Annual Production Incentive (API), and the arbitrary changes to other conditions of work cannot be ignored. We find the entire episode most ironic as the corporation in the latter 1980s and early 1990s faced similar circumstances. That situation was overcome when the corporation decided to have workers’ rates of pay come in line with the cost of living. GuySuCo’s policy to its workers is like cutting its nose to spite its face.

Ms Thomas also succinctly points to the wide reach of Uitvlugt and the myriad functions that the estate performs. This is a view we also share. But we hasten to ask, doesn’t the reach of Wales, East Demerara, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates have similar and equal importance? The corporation’s desire to put profits above people will destroy the well-being of thousands of ordinary, hard-working, decent Guyanese and wreck scores of communities throughout our country.

GAWU remains supportive of any plans which will safeguard the sugar industry and protect the livelihoods and interests of the thousands who are connected.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

Guyana Agricultural and General

Workers Union

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