GAWU welcomes partial restart of operations at Skeldon, East demerara estates

worried about exclusion of Rose Hall

While welcoming the partial resumption of operations at the Skeldon and East Demerara estates, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) yesterday voiced concern about the absence of similar plans for the Rose Hall estate.

A statement from the union yesterday said the news that the Skeldon and East Demerara estates were reopening was a “ray of sunshine between dark clouds” hovering over workers since the estates were closed.

“This was a matter we strongly stressed during our engagement with the Administration on January 19, 2018 and we are heartened that it has accepted our suggestion, obviously recognizing their grave misstep, and decided to resume operations at the estates in question,” the statement noted.

The statement came a day after Stabroek News reported that the two estates would be reopened by the end of March and that some cane cutters would be re-employed to demonstrate to potential buyers that the estates are viable and can be sold as going concerns.

While the Union said that it is encouraged by the current developments, it added that it cannot fail to recognize that no mention has been made of the Rose Hall Estate.

“The people of Rose Hall find themselves now-a-days between a rock and a hard place as they are made to contend with a jobless life. As the ex-Rose Hall workers explained at the press conference on February 14, 2018, the opportunity for jobs in the surrounding areas is near to non-existent. Already, they have shared with us that school attendance has fallen and a few other disturbing features are emerging,” the statement said, while adding that most of the ex-workers are living on their severance payment and are becoming increasingly worried about what lies after they have exhausted the money and they remain jobless.

“Quite certainly, they are worried that the situation could take an even worst turn and reach harrowing proportions. It would be unfortunate should the situation reach such a point especially given that there wasn’t the need to close the estate in the first place,” the statement added.

Since the Union has been appealing to the current administration to reopen the estates, the statement questioned whether the same rationale which was applied to the decision to close the estates, was applied to reopen them. “The GAWU cannot help but wonder whether these rationales had not entered the Administration’s mind before it took what clearly was a wrong decision to close the estates in the first place,” the statement said.

The Union said that while it understands the reopening of the estates will be on a limited basis and all of the ex-sugar workers would not be regaining their employment, the move could present a new set of difficulties. On that note, it urged the government to remember that it was only a few weeks ago that it had embraced  the International Labour Organization Decent Work Programme, which supports fair income, job security, respect for workers’ rights and freedoms and equality.

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