There is no guarantee all sugar workers would be retained in privatisation

Dear Editor,

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) finds it incumbent to respond to Mr Gobin Harbhajan’s letter titled ‘GAWU was one of the main culprits in running down the sugar industry’ which appeared in the September 18, 2017 edition of the Stabroek News. Mr Harbhajan seemed very upset by the GAWU-organised march and public meeting which was held at Corriverton, Berbice on September 12, 2017. Like Mr Harbhajan says. “action speaks louder than words” and quite clearly the workers by their actions have demonstrated that they are opposed to plans by the APNU+AFC government to sell out Skeldon and to close Rose Hall and Enmore/LBI Estates.

It seems that the erstwhile gentleman is failing, for some odd reason, to recognize that the people have staunchly rejected his government’s anti-people plans. It would have been thought that given the wide condemnation that the sugar plans have attracted Mr Harbhajan and colleagues would have returned to the drawing board rather than rigidly and wrongly held on to their misplaced plans. Governments the world over, even some dictatorial-type ones, have gone down such paths, but it seems the APNU+AFC government, which professed its love for the sugar workers, has chosen to break the mould.

We must admit that we find it laughable that Mr Harbhajan, like an errant driver going up the wrong side of a one-way street, maintains that our union hasn’t offered “sensible and workable solutions” regarding the situation in the sugar industry when probably all of Guyana and many beyond Guyana’s shores are fully aware that the union on February 17, this year shared our thoughts with the government at a meeting led by none other than his colleague, Vice President Ramjattan. We urge Mr Harbhajan, as we have done before, to check with his colleagues before making clearly misleading assertions. Also, the government has never said to us that what we have proposed is unmeritorious.

Despite the very active debate on sugar that has been playing out in the press for some time now, Mr Harbhajan calls to attention the strike data from GuySuCo. It seems that the Regional Councillor and former SEI Director is not aware that the vast majority of those strikes relate to price disputes which concern just a few workers and are legitimized by the agreement between GAWU and GuySuCo.

While the author speaks about the decline in sugar production, he, conveniently or otherwise, fails to explain how despite the industry receiving $32B from the state, in the era of his government, is on track to deliver its worst performance since 1990. Strikes have fallen by 44 per cent between last year’s first crop and this year’s, and rainfall, though a bit unusual, was just 15 per cent above the average. Certainly, the usual scapegoats aren’t the culprits. Then what is it?

 

The parading of the industry’s employment cost is most disingenuous and obviously meant to convey that sugar workers earn boatloads of money. But we recall the sugar workers being told during the 2015 elections campaign that they were underpaid and they deserved a 20 per cent increase in pay. It is intriguing all of a sudden that the workers are earning too much. Mr Harbhajan’s clear duplicity stands nakedly exposed.

Mr Harbhajan then goes on to say that workers will not lose their jobs should the industry be privatized. Maybe it is that the author has a crystal ball. Experience has taught us otherwise and as Jamaica has shown us, there is no guarantee all workers would be retained and they would receive similar benefits. Such a situation is certainly not in the interest of Guyanese and Guyana. We urge Mr Harbhajan to become acquainted with the facts.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

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