The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) finds it necessary to correct several inaccurate statements made by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo), through its recent press release, which was reported in the September 23, 2017 Stabroek News captioned ‘GuySuCo pillories GAWU over spate of sugar industry strikes’.
While the sugar company seeks to cast aspersions on our union and the workers, we find its assertions are far from reality and completely baseless and unfounded. GuySuCo, in a most objectionable manner, sought to ridicule the workers’ protests but importantly failed to tell the Guyanese people that the workers’ actions arose from the corporation’s seeming policy to keep the union and the workers at arm’s length.
As was widely reported, the company failed to pay the workers on September 15, 2017, a move which, to wage earners, is tantamount to a criminal act. That communication was very much upsetting to the workers who learnt of the delay just a few hours before their wages were payable on September 15, 2017. It was only in the late afternoon of September 14, 2017 that GuySuCo informed our union about the delay in the wages payment. Certainly, the corporation would have known for some time before it contacted our union that the workers’ wages would have been delayed. Therefore, it raises the question of why the corporation didn’t choose to engage the workers and the union rather resorting to a paltry phone call on the eve of payday.
We naturally enquired from GuySuCo about when the wages would be paid and were told that no date was yet identified. As a responsible organization, we informed our members, as best as we could, given the late notice by GuySuCo. We also advised the workers that the corporation could not advise us on a payment date. In the ensuing days, our union, at the central and estate levels, continued to engage the corporation about the payment date but no clear information was being provided. This we also communicated to our members.
Quite expectedly, workers’ apprehension was building given their urgent need for their wages to sustain their families and to meet their obligations. In such circumstances, the workers, with the union’s full support, staged a number of picketing exercises calling on the sugar company to honour its legal obligation to the workers. It was only after the workers’ picketing exercises that the corporation finally advised that the workers would be paid on September 20, 2017, five days late. Certainly, it wouldn’t have been far-fetched for the corporation to have contacted our union to apprise us of this.
The workers having being paid on September 20, 2017 enquired from GAWU whether they would be paid on September 22, 2017. Our union, through our Field Officers, on September 21, 2017 contacted the respective Estate Managers who advised them they were awaiting advice from the GuySuCo Head Office. The union next, around 14:45h on September 21, wrote the corporation’s Chief Executive Officer regarding the workers’ wages. To date, our union has not received any response from the CEO concerning our letter on the matter. That notwithstanding, our union’s Field Officers continued to remain in contact with the respective Estate Managers during the evening of September 21, 2017, who advised them that they were still awaiting instructions from the Head Office. It was only after 20:00h on September 21, that we learnt that the workers’ wages would be paid but at a later than usual time. Again, it wouldn’t have taken great effort for the CEO, having received our correspondence, to contact our union. We are by no means difficult to reach.
The corporation, while seeking to be critical of our union and the workers, has displayed clearly its lack of understanding of workers’ concern and compassion. Unlike the big shots ensconced in their cushy offices and enjoying their huge remuneration packages, the workers depend on the timely release of their wages in order to ensure that they have food on their tables; that they can send their children to school; that their electricity, water and telephone services are not disconnected, among other things. Sugar workers nowadays are confronting a steep decline in their real incomes, noting the steadily rising cost-of-living, whereas their rates of pay are confined to 2014 levels. It has, sadly, forced many workers to live week-to-week.
GuySuCo’s disturbing missive goes on to point an accusatory finger at our union. The GAWU sees this as nothing more than incessant, hollow harping by GuySuCo. As we have clearly illustrated with the recent delayed payment matter, the corporation seemingly remains unconcerned about its employees’ plight, and from all indications, has taken on a ‘might is right’ approach. In recent weeks, we have had cause on several occasions to write the corporation regarding several matters of concern. It was only after our correspondence that GuySuCo has chosen to respond to the workers’ concern. Certainly, had the corporation had any sort of respect for its workers, it would have engaged them and their organisations in raising and discussing matters of mutual concern.
GAWU reiterates that we remain committed to having fruitful relations with GuySuCo. But, at the same time, we are well aware that it takes two to tango. We urge the corporation to shed its yesteryear behaviour and join us in this time to face together the challenges of the industry. The contemporary approach calls for us to build bridges and not walls, as GuySuCo is currently doing.