GAWU’s priority seems not to be workers’ representation but to mobilize around another cause

Dear Editor,

With reference to articles published in the Stabroek News and Kaieteur News on May 17  and  titled ‘Berbicians in big protest’ and ‘Business people, pensioners, taxi drivers join massive protests’, respectively; while on the one hand the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) would like to applaud the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) for its noteworthy ability to mobilize a large cross section of the public around issues in the sugar industry, the corporation has concluded that the union has lost its way as a workers’ representative organisation and seems to have as its priority advocating and mobilizing around another cause.

It is important to note that GuySuCo did not arrive at this deteriorated state overnight, this is the result of years of decline in several aspects of the business to which GAWU has and still is directly contributing. For example, the table below shows that from 2001 to 2016 there were over 3,000 strikes, over one million  Man Days lost and over $2 billion lost in wages to workers as a result of being influenced by GAWU to strike.

GuySuCo wishes to remind GAWU that the core of its current business is to produce sugar and every other aspect of its operations must evolve around that understanding.  Additionally, its engagements with stakeholders, such as unions, in this instance, GAWU, must be based on the simple understanding that if and when sugar production is not the priority, then the corporation’s ability to pay wages and salaries, pay creditors, provide health, drainage and irrigation, community development and other services, is severely impaired.  An even more important point to note is that the corporation has         customers who expect a reliable supply of sugar. Basically, in essence, the corporation is a business.

Over the years, the corporation has been grappling with numerous practices which are not enabling its growth and development, one of which is attendance at all of its estates. For the First Crop 2016 the Planters’ turnout at estates was: Skeldon 66.4%, Albion 66.67%, 65.33%, Blairmont 66%, 72.5%. For the Second Crop 2016, the percentages were as follows:  Skeldon 68, Albion 71, 62, Blairmont 68, 73.5. Harvesters turnout for the First Crop were: Skeldon 50%, Albion 57.3, Rose Hall 59.5%, Blairmont 57.57%, Wales 65.33%, Uitvlugt 48.67% while the Second Crop 2016 percentages were: Skeldon 56.33,  Albion 63.33, Rose Hall 61.33, 65.33, Wales 64.00.

It is ironic that on May 17, 2017 when the workers were protesting with GAWU, there were some 242 tonnes of sugar that could have been processed by the factory at the Rose Hall Estate; this was valued at $17,000,000, all of which was lost/spoiled because the workers were on strike protesting with GAWU.

The Man Days lost up to May 14, 2017 at that estate is 2,542 and the corresponding wages that were lost is $5,663.086 M. The Man Days lost from strikes on May 15 and 16 on the estate were 617 and the wages lost were $1,350.523; the total wages lost by those employees for the crop is $7,013.609.

All of the above is based on the direct involvement of GAWU.

In March, GAWU encouraged the Cane Planters at the East Demerara Estate that they must not take up harvesting work even though the Harvesters’ turnout at that estate was 59 per cent and it  was lagging behind on achieving its target for the crop.

The Uitvlugt Estate is being identified for upgrading and has a programme to increase its production from 20,000 to 40,000 of sugar annually; however, for this to become a reality, the estate is in need of planters and harvesters in order to increase its planting and harvesting programme. The corporation has therefore endeavoured to transport its employees from Wales Estate to the Uitvlugt Estate but the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union has encouraged some 375 Cane Transport Operators and Cane Harvesters that they should insist that the corporation terminate their services and demand severance, this is despite that fact that if Uitvlugt does not increase its harvesting and planting capacity, it can be closed. If this happens, the businesses, families and the communities which receive drainage, health, other community development support and the 1,750 employees would be affected. The Uitvlugt Estate is the largest business in West Demerara. With its present approach to the business of sugar, if this happens, GAWU will then seek to mobilize the West Demerara community against the closure as in the case of Rose Hall Estate.

Hence, the corporation wishes to urge sugar dependent communities, that at some point, the protest has to stop, and businesses, families members and other operatives in these communities, need to get out into their communities and encourage the planters and harvesters to go out to work and to work more than four days per week to ensure that their estates achieve their targets.

We look forward to support from residents, businesses, families and officials in the West Demerara communities to ensure that the Uitvlugt improvement programme is a success.

On the point of the reorganizing of the corporation, members of the public could not possibly think that there are no programmes in place to create new opportunities for employees from Rose Hall, Skeldon and East Demerara Estates and surrounding communities. Is it really possible for every plan that the corporation has for restructuring, not to be viable? Is it really possible for the corporation to not have developed a strategic programme to address employment and other matters arising out of the restructuring programme? Or is it that GAWU’s perspective is based on its motives and motivations?

It has become clear that it is not within GAWU’s best interest to inspire hope about the future of the industry, and neither is it in its interest even in the most minute way, to ascribe some value to the reorganization programme for GuySuCo. However, at least it should allow our employees who are members of the union some space and the freedom to listen to their employer with some objectivity.

With the State Paper on the future of the sugar industry being discussed, an opportunity has been created for sections of the public to become engaged in discussions on whether the new structure for GuySuCo will result in a reduction in the foreign exchange earned.  What are the plans for the use of excess land from estates?  What could the finances which will no longer be required by GuySuCo be used for ‒ some $15 to $18 billion?  And perhaps the most important question, what will happen to employees?

The corporation has concluded that GAWU has lost its way as a stakeholder which should be involved as the workers’ representative, and seems to have assumed another role which is not in support of the sugar business. The behaviour of the union has now become predictable and that is, to continuously criticize the efforts of the management of GuySuCo’s and resist any form of progress while creating instability in the corporation.

Finally, the corporation is of the strong view that the time has come for GAWU to show what is the added value which the union brings to the partnership and its relationship with GuySuCo. And secondly, what added value do they bring to the table going forward?

The corporation will be disseminating information on the details of the reorganization programme over the coming weeks.

Yours faithfully,

Audreyanna Thomas

Senior Communications Officer

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