GuySuCo’s recent move to contract out labour to independent firms signals the end of the trade union movement in the sector and also breaks the laws of the country while it exploits the already struggling, severed workers, former Attorney General Anil Nandall says.
“It is clear therefore, that the SPU (Special Purpose Unit) and GuySuCo intend to further trample upon trade unionism and the rights and interests of workers to be represented by a trade union of their choice,” Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday.
“This is certainly a retrograde step in industrial and labour relations in our country. There is an emphatic insistence that these workers must not be part of or belong to, any trade union. This is clearly unconstitutional and in violation of the protection accorded to workers by Article 147 of the Constitution,” he added.
The Friday, March 23rd edition of the Stabroek News contains an advertisement by government holding company NICIL/SPU inviting expressions of interest for the “contracting of farmers for planting, crop husbandry and harvesting” of a said amount of hectares for cultivation at Skeldon Estate, Rosehall Estate- Canje- Berbice and the Enmore Estate. This advertisement has been running for several days now but GuySuCo has not explained the rationale behind it.
Stabroek News has tried contacting officials of the main sugar union GAWU for comment on the matter to no avail. The contracting out would mean that the workers would not be employed by GuySuCo and eligible for the benefits that go with such employment. Over 4,500 sugar workers were made redundant by GuySuCo last year. These workers were mainly from the Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore estates and are being paid severance.
Referring to the advertisement, Nandlall expressed dissatisfaction that it gives no other material details in relation to this proposed venture saying it is possibly a scheme to hide the true reasons for wanting to contract out the works.
“The other troubling aspect of the arrangement is that the cane farmers will be paid a flat price per tonne of cane irrespective of how bad the field is, the yield, the distance from factory etc. None of the different allowances that workers are paid for, example, for working out of the area, “disturbance allowance“, will be available to the workers, he said.
But sources close to GuySuCo said that the plan was to make entrepreneurs out of the severed workers where they will be their own contractors and not have to subscribe to a union.
The source said that unlike what some persons believe, the workers “are excited (that) they control their own destiny.”
Nandall rubbished the views by GuySuCo’s officials.
He recalled that in his conversation with a private cane farmer, the man bemoaned that he had to secretly meet with one of the persons authorized to deal with this transaction at GuySuCo and to provide the necessary details to persons who are interested.
“The details provided are quite shocking. It was made plain that the SPU wants no dealings with any trade union and that workers who are to be employed must be employed by the private cane farmers who must be responsible for their NIS and GRA payments, health benefits, insurance, transportation to and from work and every other amenity,” he said.
Further, he added that GuySuCo’s insistence that the contract workers not be aligned with any union breaks the laws of this country “which guarantees protection of freedom of assembly and association.”
“This Article provides that ‘no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of assembly, association…and in particular, to form or belong to political parties, trade unions or other associations, for the protection of his or her interests’”, he stressed, quoting from the constitution.
“The right of workers to be represented by a union of their choice is a right that was struggled for and won after decades of activism by thousands. The sugar workers in particular, led by Dr Cheddi Jagan held some of the longest strikes in the English-speaking Caribbean before their union, GAWU, was allowed to represent them.
“The PPP/ C Administration also enacted the … Trade Union Recognition Act law to further entrench trade unionism and the rights of workers to be represented by a union of their choice. This right is also part of ILO Convention to which Guyana is a signatory,” he added, while positing that that the works of Guyana’s former presidents seem to be in vain.
He believes that GuySuCo’s newest arrangement for fired sugar workers who are now to be re-employed was exploitative
“It is to exploit the workers who will be employed. It is intended to pay the workers far less than they were paid by GuySuCo. None of the incentive schemes under which workers benefited for example, the Annual Production Incentive will now be available because no cane farmer will have the financial capacity to finance them,” Nandall opined.
“The whole scheme is exploitive, cruel and degrading to the workers. GuySuCo and the SPU know the workers are vulnerable and desperate; they know the workers and their families are on the bread line; they know the workers are battling for their very survival so they unleashed this vicious scheme to exploit them and deny them their dignity and human rights. It is a sad human rights tragedy,” he further charged.