GUYANA: Trouble in sugar estates as GAWU steps up protests

– Albion, Uitvlugt workers confront managements on pay, other issues

Jul 14, 2022 – Kaieteur News – Against the background of widespread dissatisfaction over the management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) workers backed by their union have stepped up industrial action on various issues ranging from incentives to lack of respect.

On Tuesday workers at Uitvlugt took strike action against the corporation and on Wednesday it was the staff at Albion. According to a Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) statement on Wednesday morning several shop stewards at Albion Estate staged a picketing exercise outside of the estate calling on GuySuCo to treat workers with respect.  “For some time now, workers have been expressing concerns with the attitude of certain managers towards the workers. Despite such concerns being drawn to attention, some managers continue to advance an abrasive attitude,” the union said in a statement. 

Sugar workers at Albion Estate on Wednesday staged a picketing exercise demanding respect from management

The shop stewards shared that they have generally enjoyed cordial and respectful relations with the managers. “However, since the arrival of a particular manager who was transferred from elsewhere in the Corporation, the situation has taken a turn for the worse,” GAWU release added. The stewards pointed out that they understand that at times workers and management may not see eye-to-eye, but this did not prevent a healthy relationship. More recently, it was indicated the interactions between the parties have grown sour given the attitude of the new manager.

The stewards also expressed concerns, GAWU said over the state of the industry. They shared that they read in the media and elsewhere substantial sums are spent but they are hardly seeing the improvement they expect. “They remain committed to the sugar industry but believe the current senior-most executive of the sugar company has outlived his usefulness. They indicated that several commitments made have not been honoured since his arrival. Additionally, they hold that the stride the estate was recording has now slowed making them more apprehensive. The shop stewards believe that proper leadership can guide the Corporation to success. They remain committed to the tasks of improving the industry, however, they contend it requires capable and competent leaders.”

At Uitlugt

On Tuesday GAWU said its workers at Uitvlugt staged a picketing exercise outside of the estate calling on GuySuCo to honour holiday-with-pay (HWP) payments for the first crop 2022. HWP is paid to workers in lieu of annual leave and provided at end of each crop to qualified workers. The 2022 first crop at Uitvlugt was truncated arising from issues within the factory, however, workers continued to work and were qualified to receive their entitlements, which are in keeping with the Collective Labour Agreement between GAWU and GuySuCo, GAWU said. “The estate contends that the workers are not entitled to the HWP payments. At the same time, other sections of the employees continue to receive their full annual leave entitlements. For the workers, this is disturbing as they all benefitted similarly from the support of the Government.

Previously, the workers indicated that the Management informed them that certain computations were being undertaken towards addressing the payments. Without any forewarning, the Corporation changed its position and only offered HWP to workers engaged in planting tasks,” the release added. According to GAWU the workers became more upset after the Corporation’s CEO entered the estate compound without even seeking to ascertain the reason/s for the workers picketing. They said they felt disrespected that the senior-most executive who had previously professed his commitment to the workers could not have even asked of their difficulty.

Back in June, President of GAWU, Seepaul Narine used his Enmore Martyrs’ Day speech to call for the sacking of the corporation’s CEO, Sasenarine Singh. Singh’s tenure at the helm of the ailing sugar corporation has repeatedly come under attack owing to the lack of improvements despite billions being pumped into it. “We cannot allow the slide to continue. As the saying goes “heads must roll” and this should start from the topmost executive,” Narine had told the gathering which included President Irfaan Ali and other top government officials.

Narine had said that GAWU remains apprehensive “as we considered the recently concluded first crop. It simply was an appalling performance, the lowest first crop output in the history of the Corporation. We have heard the explanations of weather, labour and machinery. Such rationales, we contend, are over exemplified to obscure the real issue which is poor leadership and management of the industry.” According to Narine, the degeneration has reached to the point where workers Credit Union savings deducted from their wages are not remitted.

President Ali also earlier in June at a meeting with senior officials of GuySuCo had emphasised that it cannot be “business as usual anymore” and there must be sweeping changes. According to him, the corporation does not belong to any individual or group, but to the country. “We are not investing all of these resources in GuySuCo for failure. The restructuring and strengthening of GuySuCo is not a joke. When we said we want to make this industry viable, it is not a mystery.” “Success does not start with money, success starts with the right attitude, success starts with teams, success starts with people and if we can’t get this fundamentally right, then we have no hope of being successful—absolutely no hope of being successful,” President Ali said.

GuySuCo last year produced 30,865MT less of sugar when compared with 2020. Based on a report, GuySuCo’s pre-audited production stood at 58,025MT of sugar in 2021 compared to 88,890MT in 2020. Despite the significant shortfall, the Corporation had said it met all the needs of the local market for 2021. It was explained that the shortfall was a result of the loss of some 35 percent of the standing cane during the 2nd Crop of 2021 due to the flood. “At Albion, where 50 percent of the production was programmed to be made, the mortality rate for the standing canes planned to be harvested for the 1st Crop of 2022 is estimated at 80 percent due to the floods. On the Berbice Estates where more than 77 percent of the production is made, the rainfalls in 2021 were 72 percent more than the previous year,” GuySuCo detailed, while noting that it drained some 4.5 million tonnes of water off the land daily during the 65-day flood.

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