One must feel sympathy for GAWU’s dilemma as expressed in the over-extended letter in SN of April 5, regarding the current plight of workers in the sugar industry, albeit misconstructed.
However expressed, the content fails to give the affected workers any hope of the usual militant representation on their behalf. Has their membership been severed? Our constitution provides for such union behaviour regardless of the status of the employer.
Surely the latter can be assertive enough to examine the nature of the relevant ‘contract’ arrangements now said to be in place. So that rather than dilating on the state of the factories, while significantly omitting mention of the infamous Skeldon elephant, it is now for the union to come out of the dated box and think of pursuing appropriate strategies to bring balance back to workers’ lives.
There is also the palpable non-sequitur about the health services. With great respect to the author, who in any case quoted out of context, the records would show that the industry’s provision of health services long preceded the existence of GAWU and indeed the predecessor MPCA.
It was the industry’s services that rid the country of malaria, for example. It was the industry which had hospitals long established at Skeldon, Port Mourant, Blairmont, Lusignan, Diamond, Leonora, for example – all when there was no union.
In fact, health services in a labour intensive industry were always a logical provision. It would be helpful therefore, if the union could produce records of negotiations for such benefits, apart from the compensation packages of the relevant para-medical staff.
Of course, the latter groups of employees also benefited from the comprehensive Contributory Hospitalisation and Maternity Scheme instituted by Bookers Sugar Estates Ltd in 1964, initially insured with the American Life Insurance Company, from whose accumulated refunds the construction of the Ogle Diagnostic Centre was financed.
But the point to be clarified is that reference to the cost of health services, alluded to in an earlier letter in KN, was intended to inform readers unfamiliar with the sugar industry of its inclusion in overall production costs.
No one who has been in the industry as long as the undersigned could begrudge any of its employees the benefits accrued over long years.
But now, all of us who have partnered in the industry must recognise that it is at a juncture in its history, however bitter sweet, that we must creatively address new and even unnecessary challenges, albeit in the face of current strategic and organisational lapses.
This is hardly the time for the constipative stance of blame-throwing, however deserved.
Quite the contrary, there is urgent need for active conversations amongst equals about how the future of the industry can be assured. It is time that we all move from a playing field overgrown with infertile antagonisms, onto a pitch that we can practise playing forward as a team.
E B John