The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) sees it necessary to respond to a letter by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) which appeared in the October 11, 2017 Stabroek News under the title ‘GuySuCo has a challenge in its partnership with GAWU’. In GuySuCo’s letter, the corporation’s Senior Communication Officer, Ms Audreyanna Thomas starts by taking objection to the title of our letter appearing in the Stabroek News of October 7, 2017. On this score, we wish to advise Ms Thomas and GuySuCo that the letter’s title is a product of the editorial wisdom of the Stabroek News. Our missive was titled ‘GuySuCo should build bridges not walls’.
Putting the corporation’s frivolousness aside, the silly objection being made, in our view, serves to expose the sugar company’s unenvious state of mind. It demonstrates, seemingly, the corporation’s strongly held view that GAWU should be subservient to the company and that the workers are its property. This is the sort of ‘partnership’ GuySuCo really wants, which is to treat the union as its servant, and not a sincere “partnership”, as it deceptively wants the Guyanese people to believe.
The company, as we can determine from our vantage point, is very bitter over its inability to impose its will and way on GAWU and the sugar workers. It is this that is driving its disdain towards our organization and the thousands of ordinary workers in the industry.
The company’s spokeswoman then goes on to accuse our union of having no responsibility. We expected GuySuCo to be wiser than this. Seemingly the corporation is slipping or, maybe, has run out of things to say. Any rational person can see right through GuySuCo’s ill-considered statement. Our union has a proud record which attests to its responsible, principled and forthright stance on matters. These facts very much throw cold water on the corporation’s baseless and unsubstantiated statement. But this is the face of the ‘new’ GuySuCo, our union and the workers must nowadays contend with.
Though it is well known, we wish to make it clear as day that the GAWU is very much aware of its foremost, moral and legal responsibility to ensure that the workers’ rights, conditions, and benefits are respected and not trampled upon. We do not need a condescending lecture from GuySuCo. We also wish to repeat that we remain open to discuss matters of concern with the corporation. We have never shirked from any such engagements. But moving in this direction will require the company to abandon its arm’s length approach to the union which the corporation adopted since October, 2015 when we began to press for a pay rise for sugar workers for the year 2015.
The corporation’s officer, in our view, sought to put an ignoble spin when she sought to address the delay in the workers’ wages on September 15. Ms Thomas tells the public that “…the corporation exhausted all efforts to garner financial resources to ensure that employees were paid on time…” The good lady’s words are clear and unambiguous. They convey that the corporation was well aware that workers wouldn’t have been paid on time long before the company contacted us on the afternoon of September 14 to inform us of the delay. Clearly, it was not a case of a sudden, unexpected occurrence. If the company was indeed sincere about having ‘partnership’ with GAWU certainly it would have contacted our union and the workers much earlier than it did to advise of its difficulty. This speaks volumes about the corporation’s seriousness in transforming its words into actions.
The corporation goes on expressing its disquiet over the workers’ protest activities to demand the payment of their wages. We ask what is wrong with workers demanding what they worked for and is rightfully theirs, and which they justifiably require to make ends meet? Just a few months ago, quite correctly, several teachers picketed outside of the Region 5 office demanding payment of their salaries which were withheld. Those teachers were not criticized by the Ministry of Education or the government. We ask why the sugar workers should receive different treatment. But again it serves to further expose the contempt held by the corporation’s hierarchy towards the workers, their concerns, and their plight.
The missive then comes to the core of the matter in continuing to lay the groundwork to blame the workers and the union for the very poor production level which is anticipated this year. In recent times, the GAWU has drawn attention to this propaganda ploy by GuySuCo as it seeks to shift blame and find a scapegoat for its utter failures. Ms Thomas rightly says “the more sugar that is produced and sold, the more it will alleviate the Corporation’s financial dilemma”. This succinct statement very much sums up the corporation’s problems: its inability to produce a sufficient quantity of canes. The fact remains that the corporation does not have the canes in the fields to reach its targets. How else does one explain that the production target has shifted from about 200,000 tonnes sugar at the beginning of the year, to around 175,000 tonnes sugar in or around July, 2017 and which most likely will be about 150,000 tonnes when production ceases at year-end.
GuySuCo then says that our correspondence is dealt with professionally. Maybe it is that GuySuCo has re-defined the word. We say this taking into account that our correspondence of September 21 to the company’s CEO regarding the payment of wages on September 22 was not even acknowledged. We further wish to remind the company’s spokesperson that the union’s claim towards improving workers’ pay and conditions and benefits, remains unaddressed at this point in time in stark violation of the timelines set out in the Recognition and the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement. We say this because letters concerning workers’ matters, some weeks old, remain unanswered. We wonder where is the professionalism that the GuySuCo spokesperson speaks about. Quite clearly, it seems that the word professionalism has taken on a new meaning in GuySuCo’s context.
We are then accused of encouraging workers to engage in work stoppages. Again it seems that the corporation has fallen off its rocker. Many of those stoppages GuySuCo speaks of, occur in the early morning hours very much before our union’s offices begin to operate. One wonders how we can encourage a stoppage when we are not even aware of the situation. Moreover, why would a worker, waking up in the wee hours of the morning and having his wife waking up even earlier than him to prepare his meals, just to go to work to resort to strike. But that is exactly what the corporation is seeking to say; it seems rationality has completely departed the corporation’s mindset. The fact that the workers are forced to engage in work stoppages obviously speaks to the pressures they face when they must confront weedy, vine-infested, and grassy fields which require much greater efforts on their part and an arrogant attitude as they seek to obtain reasonable payments for the additional work they are required to undertake.
GAWU is then charged with impacting “production and productivity and the security of employment”. But is it the GAWU that is proposing to close and sell out estates? Is it the GAWU that is not applying inputs in a timely manner, or not applying inputs altogether, in some cases? Is it the GAWU that is making decisions to cease cane planting? Is it the GAWU that is making decisions on how finances should be allocated and spent? These decisions, policies and directions are not influenced, considered or approved by the GAWU or the workers for that matter. We are not even told about them until they are implemented. How then can we be accused? But then again, as we have been saying, the corporation has no concern or respect for its hard-working workers and their organisations.
The corporation continues to speak glowingly about having partnership, but that’s all it does. It looks as if this talk of partnership is one based on its dictated terms and conditions. Such an approach cannot lend to success. GAWU, as it has said many times before now, is committed to good and positive relations with the sugar company. Such partnership must be founded on the bedrock of equality, mutual respect and understanding.