GAWU sees GuySuCo solely as a public sector agency

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) would like to respond to Mr Seepaul Narine’s letters which were published in the Stabroek News on June 23 titled ‘GAWU is not a service provider to GuySuCo’ and in the Kaieteur News on June 24 captioned, ‘GuySuCo is a wolf in sheep’s clothing’.

Firstly, the corporation is not surprised that the union does not see its role as one that involves the provision of a service to our employees and by extension the corporation, hence the very reason the corporation has been indicating that GAWU has lost its way as a workers’ representative organization. GuySuCo is of the view that it is within its interest to assist GAWU to situate itself or clearly understand its role in the partnership with the corporation.

As a civil society organization GAWU’s core function should be social development, and the union should seek to achieve this through any or all of the following: Creating opportunities for  individual growth and creativity, providing support and services for those in need or excluded from mainstream society and acting as guardians of the public good. The main attribute should therefore be one that it is driven by values, and is responsive, vocal, inclusive and imaginative.

GuySuCo on the other hand has elements of both the public and private sectors as a semi-autonomous organization. This simply means that as a public entity in the GuySuCo context, it provides certain public services to ensure the basic needs and rights of its employees and residents in the communities are met, such as health care, management of drainage and irrigation, emergency services, etc. Its private sector components include involvement in investment and trade by producing sugar and some services for which it recovers cost; it also provides employment opportunities. As a business, the focus of the re-organisation efforts are: re-engineering and to be innovative in order to derive economic growth and maximise profits for investors, such as cane farmers and the government. This is in addition to ensuring further investment so that the corporation can continue to innovate. By virtue of having components of the public and private sectors, its main attribute is not merely profits, even though it is expected to make a profit, as well as be inventive and productive.

Having stated the above, a part of the challenge of GuySuCo being in a partnership with GAWU, is that the union as a non-business partner, approaches the partnership from the point of view of  GuySuCo being solely a public sector entity. If GuySuCo was entirely a private sector entity essentially driven by profits, the relationship and expectations of the union would be different. For GAWU, as a public sector entity, providing employment and public services are of primary interest or rather the only interest; the private sector aspects, such as efficient management, profits, innovation, economic growth, investment and creating an environment to allow the business to continue to innovate, are not concerns or considerations.

Therein lies a fundamental problem which is evident in Mr Narine’s letter. One of the critical  flaws in GAWU’s current approach as a labour representative organization in the partnership with GuySuCo, a semi-autonomous entity, is that the union educates our employees who are members about their rights as employees, but fails to bring a necessary and critical balance, that rights have responsibilities attached to them. As a matter of fact, the union’s view is that the employees have rights and the management and GuySuCo as the employer have the responsibilities. Going forward, the corporation would like the union to widen its perspective  to reflect a more balanced approach, particularly when educating, as well as in the relationship with our employees in the course of providing labour representation services.

Its strategies and tactics have to be transformed to be more relevant and to enable and enhance GuySuCo’s operations while at the same time carrying out its role of holding the corporation accountable.

GAWU being a non-business partner that is in a partnership with a business, the question is, how can the union reform to support the enhancement of the operations of GuySuCo and still ensure accountability? Currently, in its quest to make the corporation accountable, the union has become a major hindrance to the growth and development of the business of sugar. For example, in March, during the First Crop, the planters at the East Demerara Estate were offered work to harvest canes since the estate’s harvesting turnout was 59%, but they were advised by the union not to take up harvesting work, even though their estate had not met its target.

Then on May 22, the harvesters at the same estate were informed by the estate management that the crop was continuing, and again they were encouraged to strike on May 23, 24 and 25; they resumed duties after being reminded at a meeting with GuySuCo, that the continuation of the crop would result in regular earnings for them for that period.

The cane harvesters and cane transport operators at Wales Estate were encouraged by the union to refuse work at Uitvlugt Estate and to demand that their services be terminated so that they can be paid severance, even though Uitvlugt Estate needs the additional labour and it will result in sustained employment for them.

On May 17, GAWU organized a protest in Rose Hall; the employees left the factory to protest, even though there was 242 tonnes of sugar being processed at a value of $17M. The union later distributed a press release on the same day, proudly stating that “the workers militancy brought to a standstill the operations of the factory”.

These are just a few examples of how the union’s approach to workers’ representation has and is still accelerating the demise of GuySuCo. The union could have at least encouraged a small number of employees to remain in the factory in order to complete the processing of the sugar. GuySuCo would like to inform Mr Narine that the workers have rights but they also have responsibilities.

On the point of the corporation being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Mr Narine is well aware that there is no sheep that can manage GuySuCo and make it successful. As such, it is not apt to describe the corporation as a sheep neither is it a wolf. However, the management is cognizant of the fact that it has been given the responsibility to manage a significant part of the assets and business of the people of Guyana and it intends to be good stewards.

Additionally, the management is well aware that the corporation has a $78B debt and an urgent need to regain and gain the confidence of financial institutions, investors, stakeholders and employees so that the corporation can become viable, and this requires prudent management and strong leadership.

Further, GuySuCo would wish to see the union engaging our employees in activities and discourses which focus on the challenges but also on the opportunities that are available, and will emerge for the reorganization and to encourage them be more committed to assisting their estates to achieve targets as well as stimulate their creative and innovative ability.

Finally, GAWU seems to be confused: on the one hand they are stating that the quality of management needs to improve and now that it is improving, the union is claiming that we are wolves. We have a business to manage, and manage it we will!

Yours faithfully,

Audreyanna Thomas

Senior Communications Officer  

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