…as widespread firing continues in sugar belt
By Samuel Sukhnandan
Hundreds of workers attached to the East Demerara Estate (EDE) located in Enmore, East Coast Demerara, have been issued termination letters by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), as the plans announced by Government earlier this year to close the sugar estate starts to take effect.
A senior official of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) confirmed this with Guyana Times on Wednesday, stating that workers are devastated by the move, as they are now contemplating how they will spend the holidays and whether they will get new employment in 2018.
The official, who requested anonymity, explained that the first batch of workers who are mostly engaged in other activities besides harvesting and factory duties were issued with their termination letters in September and given one month’s notice. These workers have since been paid.
“We can say about two weeks ago they all received their cheques. It’s about five different gangs. Some got 75 people, another one 120, another one 30. Some of them are fertilisers and some do other work in the fields. But that set, it’s about 250 people that get fired first,” the official explained.
However, those who worked in the factory, tillage, workshops and the actual harvesters, began receiving their termination letters about two days ago. While all workers at the EDE have not been issued with termination letters, a large majority of the workers there will be going home by year-end.
The Union official told this newspaper, “Factory alone got 230 who get their letters and tillage 125, the workshop 75 people got letters. About 187 harvesters got their letters too and all of them will be working up to December 31, 2017. On average, it’s about 1500 plus workers going home.”
Only on Wednesday it was reported that termination letters were issued to over 2000 workers at the Skeldon Estate. It is expected that more persons will receive letters during the course of the week. This move follows on the heels of the similar notice given to Rose Hall Estate workers about one week ago.
Meanwhile, in a leaked correspondence between the Special Purposes Unit (SPU) of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and GuySuCo dated November 29, 2017, it shows the SPU giving direct instructions to the company’s Chief Industrial Relations Manager.
The correspondence read, “I write to inform you that after numerous and careful discussions among the SPU team, it was decided that extending the date for the transfer of the three estates, viz Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara (Enmore) beyond 31st December, 2017, would not be practicable.”
It went on to state that, “the SPU team has decided that we would prefer to stick to the agreed date of 31st December, 2017. The extension of the date beyond 31st December, 2017, for the transfer of the three estates to the SPU would cause a lot of operational and financial issues and difficulties.”
While recognising that this directive may pose some challenges, the SPU said that it hopes for a smooth transition process and that it would be ready to assist in whatever way possible.
In May 2017, Government announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.
Despite these moves, Minister of State Joseph Harmon at a post-Cabinet press briefing stated that the closure of the sugar estates will be pushed back to 2018.
Harmon had said that closure of the Rose Hall Estate in East Canje, Berbice will occur sometime next year. With regard to the Skeldon and Enmore Estates, he said that the SPU will have to conduct evaluations, surveys and inventory assessments before any steps are taken to actually sell.
Recently, the Minister also stated that such a major decision should have at least been discussed with the other Cabinet members so as to plan accordingly. He said he believes that at least some kind of notification ought to have been given to the workers who are being made redundant.
It was recently reported that the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has submitted a proposal for the acquisition of the East Coast Demerara estate.
A statement from Head of the SPU, Colvin Heath-London, last month detailed that an international accounting firm would be recruited to evaluate GuySuCo’s assets for privatisation and divestment.
Last month, GuySuCo announced plans to retrench 2500 workers by the end of this year. GAWU says the downsizing and subsequent closure of sugar estates would lead to the loss of more than 15,000 jobs, and the potential threat of poverty for between 50,000 and 100,000 people.