The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is very concerned and perplexed by what it deems as a strange decision of the Guyana Police Force not to allow the union to use a noisy instrument during its march from the High Bridge of Rose Hall Canje along the public road to the Canje junction along the No 2 public road and back to the High Bridge on January 9. Our union, in keeping with the Public Order Act, by letter of January 4, 2018, among other things, sought permission to use a noisy instrument during the march.
In response to our January 4 application, the Office of the Divisional Commander of the ‘B’ Division of the Guyana Police Force, by letter dated January 8, 2018, approved the union’s application. That application as we pointed out included a request for permission to use a noisy instrument like those which had been contained in similar, previous applications when permission was granted.
On this occasion though, just prior to the commencement of the march at 7:00h we were informed by the police that the use of a noisy instrument during the march was not permitted. We immediately objected and drew to the attention of the officers present the union’s as well as the Police Force correspondence. Despite what we view as a clearly approved application, the officers insisted we could not proceed to use the noisy instrument. Our objections heralded the involvement of Superintendent DeHearte who was also present. He advised that the Commander instructed that no noisy instrument was allowed during the march. Commander Lyndon Alves in a conversation with a union official of our Berbice office after the march and rally confirmed that he did not approve the use of a noisy instrument.
Our union is at a loss as to the reason for the sudden denial. We cannot help but wonder whether there was any undue influence in an attempt to derail our activity. Not only were similar approvals granted to GAWU by the Police Force but we are aware that other organisations have, generally, been granted similar permission too. In view of this action by the Police Force, we have penned a letter to Commissioner of Police (ag) David Ramnarine to express our concern. We are indeed hopeful that the police denial was a one-off incident and that our lawful public activities in the future will not be hampered in any way.
Despite this blot, from all other accounts the activity was a success. It saw hundreds of persons from all walks of life braving the inclement weather and marching several miles to draw attention to the plight of the workers who have been made redundant following the closure of Rose Hall at the end of 2017.
The workers who received their last pay packet on December 29, 2017 are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Some told us that they have commitments to the banks for loans they contracted and their repayments are past due in some cases, or due in the coming days. Naturally, they are worried that their properties may be repossessed since they see no way of meeting their obligations to the banks. Several also shared that with the commencement of the school term last Monday (January 8) they are unable send their children to school and unless the situation changes their children may have to drop out. At this time, the workers are demanding the urgent payment of their severance entitlements which would provide them with a little breathing space. They of course seek to provide for their families and are calling on the government to share with them the plans they have to provide them with the means to earn a living since their jobs were taken away from them.
At the conclusion of the march, the marchers were addressed by, among others, GAWU’s President, Komal Chand; the Union’s General Secretary, Seepaul Narine; GAWU Executive Committee member, Gordon Thomas, and Chairman of Region 6, David Armogan. Also expressing solidarity with the workers and the communities were PPP/C Members of Parliament, Gail Teixeira and Bishop Juan Edghill. All the speakers condemned the callous and wrong decision to shutter the estates and in that process put thousands of workers on the breadline. They also called on the government to immediately pay the workers their severance payments. The speakers lamented the fact that the government has not found it fit to engage the workers and their families and to provide at least a clue about what the future holds for them. The speakers also expressed their sympathies with the family of worker Joseph Mohabir who took an unfortunate decision to end his life on Old Year’s Day 2017. They used the opportunity to urge others not to take such a decision and to seek the counsel of others should such thoughts creep into their minds.