Sugar workers would not benefit from oil economy

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… 25,000 to be jobless by mid next year

By Shemuel Fanfair

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo on Wednesday again lamented the fact that thousands of sugar workers stand to lose their jobs in the coming months as Government continues its scaling down on the sugar industry.
Speaking at a public meeting organised by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Jagdeo surmised that the number of jobs slated to emanate from the emerging local oil industry will not suffice for, or outweigh the avenues of employment that existed in the once thriving sugar industry.

Sugar workers and family members told to stand firm against closure

He claimed that Government’s decisions on the industry are motivated by “malice” and a lack of consideration for thousands of employees and their families who stand to suffer from the closures of sugar estates across the country. Jagdeo also told the gathering at Enterprise, East Coast Demerara, that from an economic perspective, there is much risk in being too heavily dependent on oil, given the volatile nature of the market.
“Oil prices could be US$88 in the future in 2020 or it could be US$30. You may get large sums of money or you may get nothing for a long while like Saudi Arabia and many of the oil producing countries have discovered,” Jagdeo stated.
The gathering was also told that jobs from the oil sector would be considerably less than thousands of available jobs from the sugar industry.
“The jobs that they will get from oil are cumulatively less than a 1000 but 10,000 sugar workers will lose their jobs. Already in the past two years, about 18,000 have lost their jobs and by mid next year, it will go up to about 25,000 people in Guyana since this coalition Government took office,” Jagdeo expressed at GAWU’s public meeting.
According to his estimations, the Opposition Leader observed his doubts over just how much the country will benefit economically from the oil sector, also questioning why Government had not yet set up the Sovereign Wealth Fund as was stated.
“If we get $380 million a year, we will pay out all to public servants and pensions. They are delusional because they know that the economy is failing; they are clueless about how to change things, they’re visionless,” the former President declared.
“Ministers Raphael Trotman and Winston Jordan went to Uganda to look at Sovereign Wealth Fund and said that it would be in place since last year and until now, we don’t know where that is,” Jagdeo added, suggesting that Government is eager to see benefits from the oil economy without having the fund in place.
He told the gathering of mostly sugar workers and their families that if Government is allowed to remain in office, it would be a return to the policies of the past.
“If you give them the next 10 years, we’re not going to get jobs, we will go back to where we were under Burnham – accumulation of debt and economic malice as is happening already, we cannot allow them to stay there very long,” he said, referencing prospects for the 2020 elections.
The GAWU-organised gathering later heard that Government is not meeting in the communities and the Opposition Leader reiterated that even some of the Administration’s supporters were “not happy” with its performance.
“The tragedy is that they don’t come to the communities, they don’t go to the markets, they don’t talk to ordinary people – they sit in their offices and grade themselves,” the Opposition Leader told the gathering.
Further assessing Government’s performance, the Opposition Leader referenced many contracts which he said were not being taken to public tender and noted the increase in taxes which spurred miners from boycotting the mining day observances. GAWU President Komal Chand also spoke at the meeting, where he told the workers that they must stand firm and continue to fight for their rights as sugar workers to secure their future and economic sustenance.
On May 8, 2017, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder presented Government’s State paper on the future of the sugar industry to the National Assembly where he confirmed that two sugar estates would be closed and the annual production of sugar would be reduced, among a number of other measures, as part of a new policy on the sugar industry.
He noted that GuySuCo would have three estates and three sugar factories. These being Blairmont on the West Bank of Berbice, Albion-Rose Hall in East Berbice and the Uitvlugt-Wales Estate in West Demerara. The three estates will be complete with factories and will have cane supplied from all locations, the Minister had noted.