The journey to the good life remains an elusive dream for retrenched sugar workers. The good life minus our sugar workers and their families equals depressing and dying rural communities and catastrophic social and economic consequences for Guyana. We cannot speak of national cohesion, equity and fairness on the one hand, while on the other, we plough significant amounts of resources to keep bauxite and gold mining alive but leave sugar to perish.
The sugar industry has played a major role in the rural economy of our country. Pointedly I ask: Has the APNU+AFC government considered the ultimate effect on the Guyanese populace of the loss of earnings of dismissed sugar workers? And have they considered the multiplier effect of this considerable reduction in spending by these workers on consumer goods and services provided in large measure by small and medium-sized businesses that rely on the support of the sugar workers? I guess not.
The significance of the industry from a social and economic perspective was never lost on the PPP/C government, and that is why, even as we worked with GuySuCo, with the sugar worker unions GAWU and NAACIE and the workers themselves to address the challenges of high production costs, and to revive the fortunes of the sugar industry, we did provide financial and other forms of support to the sector. This is because we had determined that sugar was, and indeed still is, a sustainable business in Guyana. In this respect also, we overtly declared our opposition to the closure/privatization/ downsizing of the sugar estates. On the contrary, the APNU+AFC government refused to engage the PPP/C and the unions in any meaningful discussions on the future of the sugar industry. So much for the APNU+AFC government’s respect for trade unions and the workers they represent.
As a result, the large-scale retrenchment of sugar workers without adequate suitable alternative measures being put in place to address the issue of labour facing redundancy, leaves in its path rural poverty and instability; idle unemployed youths on the streets many of whom are susceptible to reactionary violence and other forms of criminal activity; and migration to urban communities, putting additional pressures on existing inadequate social services, infrastructure, recreational facilities, etc.
The government has a responsibility to ensure stability in our country, thus placing thousands of retrenched sugar workers on the breadline certainly does not facilitate the stability that most Guyanese/ investors would wish to see. Indeed, putting thousands of people out of bread paints a socio-economic picture not dissimilar to what the Guyanese people experienced under the PNC government of the 1970s and 1980s. I am certain that most wish not to relive or experience that era.
How would the families and other dependents of the retrenched sugar workers survive? Many children will be forced out of school. Will this government take responsibility for the aftermath? Or is it that they don’t care?
The prevailing political and economic climate in Guyana poses a clear threat to our country’s economic well-being, not only that of the redundant sugar workers and their families. The journey to the good life remains an elusive dream.