In what will be seen as a major development, President David Granger, along with members of Cabinet, today, met with the President and members of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) at the Ministry of the Presidency to discuss the future of the sugar industry.
A release from the Ministry of the Presidency said that after more than two hours of discussions, the parties were able to find common ground and the Unions agreed to fully cooperate with the Government to find a solution, which can benefit all stakeholders.
The government had been strongly criticised for allowing the severing of 4,000 GuySuCo workers without having options in place for them or evaluating the social impact of the job losses on their communities. The government had also been pilloried on its unpreparedness to pay severance immediately to all 4,000 workers.
President Granger, who addressed members of the Union said that this is the start of talks between the two sides so that an agreement can be reached at the earliest possible time. He said that this is the time for all stakeholders to come together, putting aside all prejudices and partisan interests and work for the national good.
“This is a national matter. It is not a partisan one. It involves human beings, households and families. We are conscious of the foresighted nature and we cannot ignore the context of the issue that we face. We cannot continue something that is not competitive. We are bailing out the industry at $1B per month and that is simply not sustainable. If workers have to go home then we all lose, as it will have an impact on the economic growth of the country. Government will not win, the Unions will not win and the workers will not win if the industry is crippled. We will all lose. Nobody is against the sugar industry. The Government and the Unions should engage until the issue is resolved. Let us use this opportunity to show flexibility and ensure that livelihoods are saved,” the President said.
The President noted that while there may be a difference of opinion during the discussions, he does not believe in walkouts or refusals to cooperate and it is up to all sides to ensure that they work together to formalise a solution, which will positively impact the lives of the workers.
During the meeting, Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan, said that the Government is currently exploring the option of paying the full severance for the workers who are owed $400,000 and below by the end of the month. Approximately 46 percent of the workers affected stand to benefit from this facility while the remaining 54 percent of workers will be paid 50 percent of their severance by the end of the month and the other 50 percent by the second half of the year.
Minister Jordan said that the Government is taking measures to reduce its debt and redouble its efforts to boost revenues so that they can source the money to pay the outstanding sums.
Meanwhile, Minister of Social Protection, Amna Ally, said that the Ministry is deeply concerned with the realities of the current situation facing GuySuCo and the affected workers and as such, stands ready to provide any assistance that it can.