The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) wishes to respond to a letter from the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) which appeared in the April 1 issue of the Guyana Chronicle by the company’s Senior Communication Officer, Ms Audreyanna Thomas.
We strongly hold and maintain that the corporation’s denial of redundancy payments, contrary to the laws of the land, and GuySuCo’s requiring the 300-odd workers of Wales Estate to take up work at Uitvlugt Estate is tantamount to forced labour. Our history books are replete with such examples, and it was as a result of the sustained struggles of the workers in those times that the system of forced labour was abolished and the industry went through the reforms Ms Thomas referred to in her letter.
Our union will not repeat what it previously said about the non-wage benefits being championed by the corporation’s officer, except to say that those benefits were not given because of the sugar barons’ benevolence, but were won through the hard fought struggles of the workers. Ms Thomas and GuySuCo may be enlightened by the Venn Commission’s report recommendations and findings.
In order for workers to be paid they must first complete the tasks that they are given. This has been the general practice and still is the case in the industry. Thus, we find the letter’s reference to the target to be completely out of place and is another poor attempt by the corporation to mislead and deceive the public at large. The inability of the corporation to reach its set targets is rudimentary and involves having an adequate quantity of canes in the fields. It is saddening for us to note that despite almost 400 years of cane cultivation in Guyana, the sugar corporation is having such difficulties in the fields. The leadership of the corporation, it seems, is obviously lacking.
We see the talk about the provision of tools and personal protective equipment (PPE) as a red herring to further stir the pot of confusion the corporation is brewing as seen in recent times. The provision of tools and PPEs are in keeping with GuySuCo’s obligations outlined in the Occupational Safety and Health Act. It is disturbing that on the first day of Safety and Health Month 2017, GuySuCo chose to make such incredible assertions.
While GuySuCo speaks about injustices, isn’t it an injustice to deny the workers their rightful, lawful entitlements? Isn’t it an injustice to close estates and put at risk the livelihoods and well-being of thousands of ordinary, hard-working Guyanese? Isn’t it an injustice for the corporation to re-establish its Other Crops Division fully well aware of the past failures and an absence of a comprehensive study on this occasion? And isn’t it an injustice for the corporation to deny pay rises to sugar workers for two years now, to deny the Annual Production Incentive (API) for the first time in six decades, and to arbitrarily withdraw long-standing conditions and benefits?
To charge our union with misleading our membership is a new low for GuySuCo and speaks to the desperation the corporation’s leadership has reached. The fact is that our union continues to provide principled leadership in the face of an unkind and uncaring corporation whose seeming intent is to roll back the gains the workers have secured during the years.