The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has followed several press reports which focused on the various community meetings organized by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) at a number of estates. Those meetings we recognized from the pictures appearing in the media seemed to be very poorly attended, despite what we understand are great efforts by the management to organize and encourage workers to attend. We wonder whether the corporation doesn’t find it strange that its highly-marketed encounters see just a handful of workers in attendance.
From all appearances it seems that the chickens are coming home to roost. The actions of the corporation in the last two years have not been helpful in maintaining the generally positive relations between the company and the workers and their representative organisations. Certainly, workers being forced to work at their 2014 rates of pay in year 2017; or the significant curtailing of their Annual Production Incentive (API) in 2015 and its outright denial in 2016; or certain changes to the Weekly Production Incentive (WPI) scheme significantly restricting workers benefiting from the scheme; or the denial to workers of the opportunity to obtain trade union education or be granted paid release to attend their union’s congress; or the haughty and arrogant approach taken to their concerns in the workplace, among other things, have all not been helpful in encouraging a positive approach to the industry’s ‘best minds’.
From the press reports, we have recognized that the management continues to lament the turnout of cane cutters but does not seem to offer any rationale whatsoever for the situation. Certainly, it seems GuySuCo’s ‘best minds’ are more reactive than proactive. Though turnout is said to be around 60 per cent we hasten to ask GuySuCo what percentage of cane cutters qualified for Holiday-with-Pay (HWP) benefit in the 2017 first crop and the 2016 first and second crops. It should be noted that in order for workers to receive this benefit they must work a certain number of days each week or accumulatively over the crop. The sharing of such data we believe would be instructive in bringing greater clarity to the matter.
It is also a known fact that the industry does not offer year-round work. For instance, the 2017 second crop will see estates operating for not more than sixteen weeks. When the first crop which lasted about ten weeks is taken into account it means that workers would only be offered in-crop employment for about half of the year. This is a far cry from what prevailed in the past when the two crops lasted about thirty-five to thirty-eight weeks per year. Even in the cropping period, they are uncertain about the situation they would face when they arrive for work and whether their rights would be respected. The workers, quite obviously, will seek to secure alternative employment in order to augment their incomes and maintain their families. Undoubtedly workers’ commitment, when taken together with the assault on their benefits and the threats to their livelihood which they now face, will obviously wane.
This situation is not new or unique to the sugar industry and it is almost like déjà vu. We recall a similar situation prevailed in the latter 1980s and the workers returned to work when their rates of pay and benefits were aligned with reality in the early 1990s. Even before that, the sugar barons allocated abandoned cane fields to workers to pursue peasant farming in order to assist them during the out-of-crop periods. It is perplexing that the corporation having recruited in recent times several individuals who were associated with the industry in the pre- and post-nationalization period of 1976 have not recognized this reality and sought to employ corrective measures, but instead they have sought to embrace policies that have pushed, and will continue to push, workers away from the sugar company. No wonder the New GuySuCo Community Outreach Programme is so sparsely attended.