The two major trade union umbrella organisations have come out against any move to transfer responsibility for the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) from the Ministry of Finance and the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) back to the Ministry of Agriculture because of the failure of its past leadership.
“Moving back, it is generally recognised, is not usually a step in the right direction. Our organisations strongly uphold that it is time to end the hopscotching approach to the sugar industry in the interest of all concerned,” the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) said in a joint statement issued on Friday, while noting that they “cannot lend a supporting voice to the intrigues playing out in the corridors of power regarding the sugar industry.”
Both umbrella bodies said they were extremely dismayed to learn that attempts are being made, and possibly a process has been put in motion, to transfer the responsibility for GuySuCo back to the Agriculture Ministry.
They warned that the sugar industry cannot to be placed “back in the hands of those who provided such ruinous leadership” and added that it was not in the interest of the Guyanese, especially the tens of thousands who depend on the industry’s operations. Moving in that direction, they said, will only inflict further harm on the 400-year-old sugar industry – the oldest economic endeavour in the country – and set back progress and development.
While NICIL has not had the proudest of records, they noted the attempts being made to resume operations at the three recently closed estates. Pleased with this development, they nevertheless, expressed concern over the contracting of 1,000 workers who have, reportedly, been re-employed. Though said to be a temporary arrangement, they said, they cannot turn “a Nelson’s Eye” to the expansion of such informal employment relations.
They called on the contractors to pay workers’ National Insurance Scheme contributions, to provide the re-employed workers with personal protective equipment and to ensure that other rights, guaranteed through local laws and international conventions, are upheld.
FITUG/GTUC also welcomed the recent $30 billion financing secured to improve the viability of the remaining GuySuCo estates and said they look forward to the plans being made public. A workable plan, they said, must involve the workers and their organisations to reach the desired goals.
The large decline of the industry in 2016 and 2017, they added, caused them to lose hope in the old management team that did everything to alienate the workers and their unions.
They have been following closely, they said, recent developments in the sugar industry in which some 7,000 workers have lost their jobs following the closure of Skeldon, Rose Hall, East Demerara and Wales estates in the last two years.
Despite repeated calls and advice not to proceed in this direction, they said, GuySuCo, under its previous leadership, proceeded with “a disastrous policy” that has severely undermined the social fabric in several sugar communities and has clouds of despair hovering over thousands of ordinary Guyanese.
Sugar production, they noted, declined by over 40% between 2015 and 2017 in spite of support provided by the State, while simultaneously, workers and their representative organisations were treated in “a most distasteful and disdainful manner” and several of their hard won benefits taken away.
They also said they could not forget the massive failure of GuySuCo’s Other Crops Division which, despite millions spent, has not gotten off the ground. They noted also the former cane fields converted for seed paddy at Wales that are being overtaken by bushes.