GAWU has a proud record of standing in the workers’ corner

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) wishes to respond to a letter from the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) titled ‘GAWU sees GuySuCo solely as a public sector agency’ (SN, June 30) authored by the corporation’s Senior Communications Officer, Ms Audreyanna Thomas. Through this letter, GuySuCo continues its relentless campaign of peddling falsehoods which have so far failed to gain any traction with the sugar workers and many Guyanese.

We again wish to advise Ms Thomas and GuySuCo that we are very much aware of our responsibility to our members and under no circumstance will we shirk from our legal responsibility.

It is the pursuance of our legal and moral obligations that has caused, no doubt, the corporation to become irked and resort to lashing out. We also recognize that a successful, viable sugar industry is in the interest of the workers and the nation. It is against that backdrop that we have been strong and consistent in our view that the decisions that are being taken for the industry will not lend to the success and viability that all Guyanese desire and want for the sugar industry.

The GAWU will continue to express its views with respect to the decisions on sugar.

The corporation’s officer then goes on to say that GAWU’s behaviour would be different had GuySuCo been a private entity. For Ms Thomas’s information, GAWU also represents workers in the private sector and unlike GuySuCo, those employers treat their workers and the union with respect. Our relations with the private sector employers have generally been amicable and we hardly, if at all, encounter anti-worker or anti-union expressions in our negotiations with them. We seek similar relations with GuySuCo but in the corporation’s eyes, for reasons best known to itself, we are seemingly deemed persona non grata in the last two years.

The union is being accused of not educating workers of their responsibilities. This is as far from the truth as one could be. GAWU through its education programme has been informing workers of both their rights and responsibilities. In fact, GuySuCo has always been invited by GAWU to send its personnel to a number of previous 5-day training course sessions that have been organized for sugar workers.

It was fertile ground for the corporation’s representatives to lecture the workers about matters in the company’s interest. But now, unfortunately, that worthwhile endeavour has been undermined by the corporation’s actions in denying workers paid-release to attend those courses, which are       provided for in the extant collective labour agreement. We hasten to point out that the corporation’s decision runs counter to that legally-binding agreement and it is another attack on the workers and union.

The corporation, once again, speaks to the refusal of cane planters of Enmore/LBI Estate to undertake cane cutting tasks in the first crop 2017. On several occasions, we have painfully pointed out that the corporation’s request of the planters was contrary to the established agreement and long-standing practices.

That is why the workers in the first place refused to undertake cane-cutting tasks. We felt by now the corporation would have stopped flogging that dead horse.

We also wish to advise Ms Thomas, if she isn’t aware, it is as a result of our union’s proactive involvement that the cane-cutters of Enmore/LBI returned to work on May 26, 2017 following a meeting between the central officers of the union and GuySuCo the day before. The corporation should also advise the nation why is it that despite Enmore/LBI Estate cultivation being conducive to mechanized cane harvesting that the operation wasn’t pursued at the estate during the first crop, especially in view of its enhanced productivity and cost-effectiveness and more so given that Skeldon’s entire fleet of harvesters were not utilized in the absence of a crop at that estate.

We are once again criticized for advising the Wales cane-cutters and cane transport operators of their rights. Our union is duty-bound in this regard. The workers obviously having heard from the union would have rationally considered their options.

This is borne out in the June 19, 2017 edition of Stabroek News in which former worker, Eion Fernandes, in reference to the workers’ demand for severance is quoted to have said: “We put our matter to GAWU that we don’t want to go and they are just supporting us”.

GuySuCo also calls attention to the workers’ protest at Rose Hall on May 12, 2017. May we remind GuySuCo, that the workers, like all Guyanese, have a constitutional right to protest? While the corporation advised that the some number of workers should have been cooperative, the GuySuCo fails to recognize that its un-cooperative approach with the workers and the union certainly would not yield the kind of attitude it desires.

The corporation then talks about its management being “good stewards”. Their stewardship has seen production moving from 231,000 tonnes sugar in 2015 to a miserable 183,000 tonnes in 2016 and below 50,000 tonnes in the first crop 2017.

Their stewardship has seen the displacement of hundreds of workers at Wales furthering poverty, depravity and other social issues in the communities linked to the estate. Their stewardship is seeing plans furthered to close estates and push onto the breadline thousands and in that process destroy the social fabric of many communities.

Their stewardship has seen the laws of the country, agreements, international conventions, long-standing principles, time-honoured traditions and practices being openly disrespected and flouted. The GAWU is at a loss to see the “good stewards” Ms Thomas speaks so highly about.  We are also told by Ms Thomas that she wishes to see GAWU advising workers on the opportunities which are available and would emerge from GuySuCo’s re-organisation. But we ask what the opportunities are? At Wales, besides rice which has limited involvement of the Wales workers, there is no other opportunity unless Ms Thomas meant to say there is an increased opportunity for the people of Wales to slide into poverty, depravity and suffering.

Our union which has been singled out for consistent attack by the sugar corporation and its apologists will not be daunted by the ever-expanding web of half-truths and untruths. GAWU has a proud record of standing in the workers’ corner and will continue to do so.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary


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