There will be no gains for the sugar workers to protect if they continue to be misled

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Inc wishes to furnish a further response to Mr Seepaul Narine’s letter that was published in the Stabroek News on March 24 titled ‘Injustices to sugar workers are being perpetrated anew’.

In his letter Mr Narine as the General Secretary of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) made some startling claims which, in our view, must not go unnoticed.   He noted that “it is disheartening to register, at this time, when our nation is observing the centennial anniversary of the end of indentureship in our country, that the corporation is engaging in schemes that promote forced labour…”

The corporation wishes to caution Mr Narine and GAWU from seeking to invoke sentiments which are irrelevant but nevertheless, intended to appeal to the emotions of our employees.

These utterances by Mr Narine, a representative of GAWU, have provoked us to reflect on the national context at the time when it was established, as compared with this time in the life of the industry when it is required to and is seeking to form partnerships with regional and international partners.

Founded in 1946, as the Guiana Industrial Workers’ Union, now it has become the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union. In 1946, when the union was established, the economics of sugar and more specifically the industrial relations environment were fundamentally different from today.

Since then, there have been innumerable laws – labour laws, conventions (human rights, among others) which now govern organizational behaviour. The industry has in fact undergone several reforms and indeed improvements, including in the provision of employees’ benefits and working conditions.

With all due respect, Mr Narine’s reference to indentureship and forced labour, can be seen as a calculated attempt to create further instability in the corporation.

How could Mr. Narine possibly describe the following as an assault on workers: Free medical services for all 16,000 plus employees and their spouses and children under 18 years, free medical services for pensioners and their families, emergency services for employees, financial assistance for their children through the corporation’s Bursary Award Pro-gramme, opportunities for employees’ children to be selected to become an apprentice at GuySuCo’s Training School, Port Mourant?

Even if the corporation does not achieve its targets, employees are still paid their wages and salaries every single week, fortnight or month. Does Mr Narine call that an injustice? Would Mr Narine describe the provision of free footwear, tools, protective clothing, etc, to employees  every single crop, and free transportation to take them to and from their worksite every day, as – to use his words ‒ “schemes that promote forced labour and…giving no, or little or selective, recognition to the laws, the Collec-tive Labour Agreement (CLA), and customs and practices…”?

Would Mr Narine call the offer of work to the cane harvesters and cane transport operators from the Wales Estate to allow them to have sustained employment, and further so that they can help to maintain the

survival of the Uitvlugt Estate and the livelihoods of 1,750 of their fellow employees an injustice?

Is he claiming that it is an assault or an injustice to offer harvesting work to planters at the East Demerara Estate to keep them employed and secure their earnings?

What is certainly totally inappropriate if not irrelevant, is his  linking current experiences of our employees with the following statement “…it is apt to point out, just a few days ago, we observed the anniversary of the gunning down of workers at Rose Hall Estate, which was one of the worst killings of sugar workers in Guyana’s history”.

Is Mr Narine really calling the corporation’s decision to reassign its employees to locations where the need for labour is great and in an effort to keep the doors of at least some estates open, an injustice?

Mr Narine further states, “as we are seeing, injustices to workers are being perpetrated anew. Workers’ vigilance and actions are more and more required to defend their gains, safeguard their democratic rights and ensure their just demands are realized”.

Quite the contrary, the turnout of workers from Skeldon Estate to Albion Estate has been more than satisfactory.

Interestingly, the fact of the matter is that the workers would sooner or later have no gains to protect, if they continue to be misled by the likes of Mr Narine.

Finally, GuySuCo wishes to remind Mr Narine and GAWU that it is the only employer in Guyana that provides all of the abovementioned benefits to its employees.

Yours faithfully,

Audreyanna Thomas

Senior Communications Officer

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