Laid-off sugar workers need urgent action not cheap talk

Dear Editor,

The June 24, 2018 Stabroek News reported that a coordinating committee has been established regarding GuySuCo’s ‘Sustainable and Resilient Communities Programme’ and ‘Alternative Livelihoods Initiative’. For the GAWU, the establishment of a committee, now six months after the workers of Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara were made jobless and eighteen months since a similar fate met the Wales workers, in our sincere view, says a mouthful.

The belated establishment of a ‘committee’ clearly demonstrates that there was and, from all appearances, still is no plan or even a concerted effort to address the well-being and welfare of the thousands of ordinary Guyanese who have been affected by the wrong decisions to close sugar estates. Certainly, GuySuCo and the authorities had, in our view, significant lead time to properly plan and devise workable solutions to mitigate the loss of the workers’ livelihoods. The fact that this is now being done nearly at the end of the second half of 2018 confirms the view that there was not even a glancing thought regarding how workers and their families would make out following the closing of the estates’ doors.

We cannot help but wonder, whether the ‘high-powered’ committee is aware of the realities that the jobless sugar workers and their families now face. Do they know that some workers cannot provide sufficient, healthy meals for their families? Do they know that some workers have had to remove their children from school? Do they know that some workers have found themselves in a depressive state? Do they know that families have broken up? It seems to us, that the stage-show committee, sitting, in air conditioned boardrooms, far away from the suffering spawned by closure of estates is unaware of the present-day realities in the communities linked to the now closed estates. The use of catchy names and having nice pictures of meetings mean very little to the workers and their families who are caught literally between a rock and a hard place. If the committee is really serious it needs to go to the communities to interact with the workers, find out what are their problems and devise appropriate solutions to address the difficulties they face. The seeming satellite approach cannot and, in our sincere view, will not work.

The GAWU also saw that the Ministry of Natural Resources, according to the June 25, 2018, Stabroek News, has sponsored a training programme which will train about 100 persons in several fields. Of the 100-person cohort, we recognise, some retrenched sugar workers will benefit. The GAWU welcomes this training programme, which will address a very small amount of the displaced workers. At the same time, we cannot help but wonder whether any careful consideration has been given to trainees securing employment with their new-found skills as it can very well negate the impact of the training. We also wonder whether any assessment has been done regarding the availability of such skills in Region Six and whether the trainees will join a saturated market. These, we believe, among other things, should be fully well thought-out before embarking on programmes of this nature.

At this time, while the grass is growing, the horse is starving and the jobless workers are finding it harder day by day. For the now dismissed sugar workers, they need urgent action not cheap talk.

Yours faithfully,

Seepaul Narine

General Secretary

GAWU   

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