Blairmont Estate shuts down as workers protest for pay hike
Operations at Blairmont Estate came to a standstill on Wednesday after workers took protest action over the meagre pay hike proposed by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
The workers, according to the Guyana Agriculture Workers Union (GAWU), contended that any pay increase ought to be retroactive to January last year.
The workers pointed out that the discussions between the GAWU and the GuySuCo originated from the Union’s 2019 claims. It is apposite to note that agreements arising out of discussions on non-wage matters, which also comprised the Union’s claims, saw those improvements being implemented from 2019. According to the Union, it is, therefore, puzzling that the Corporation with respect to pay increase is seeking to deviate from practice and precedent. The Union said that as was previously disclosed, the sugar company has acknowledged that “our discussions regarded 2019, yet it is seeking to implement pay rises from the beginning of this year”.
At both Blairmont and Uitvlugt Estates, workers took part in picketing exercises outside of the respective estates to reiterate their call that their pay increases be no less than five per cent and that the pay improvements be retroactive to January 1, 2019.
“The workers believe that the Corporation, and those who give it guidance, are seeking to exploit a situation knowing full well that they and their families require a raise in pay. They shared that while they seek a pay increase, their situation should not be taken advantage of. This, they contend, that this is not helpful, especially, at this time, when the Corporation is seeking maximum co-operation from its workforce,” the Union said on Wednesday.
The workers questioned whether they have not sacrificed enough already.
Moreover, the workers have questioned why further discrimination is being meted out against them, lamenting that while they must seemingly swallow a pay rise from the beginning of this year, their colleagues in other sectors of the State received their pay rises from the beginning of last year.
They added too that those workers received their retroactive payments tax-free as well, while such treatment, so far it appears, has not been even considered for them.
“The workers shared that they are willing to listen to reasonable proposals from The Sugar Corporation but at the same time they cannot allow the GuySuCo to effectively cheat them out of a year’s retroactive pay,” the Union said.
On Monday, GAWU accused GuySuCo of being mischievous and misleading the sugar workers and by extension the nation when it announced a 5 per cent increase in salaries.
The Union, in a press statement, said it noted reports of the announcement which was premised on misinformation. GuySuCo, in a statement, said it is debunking claims by GAWU that it had offered sugar workers a one per cent increase.
In an effort to clarify the misconceptions, GAWU explained that GuySuCo has only offered a 5 per cent pay rise for workers engaged in piece-rate activities. For those engaged in time-rated work, it has proposed a $20 increase for those at the Band One level and $18 for those who are in Bands Two to Five.
The Union noted that those increases range between 4.1 to 7.84 per cent. Apart from that, GuySuCo has proposed a $4000 per month increase for monthly-paid employees, which is equivalent to a 3.9 per cent increase at the minimum level for foremen and 4.62 per cent for charge hands. GAWU explained that the Corporation wishes to implement the new increases from January 1, 2020.
On February 7 this year, the incumbent Administration surprisingly offered an increase in wages to workers on the sugar belt – something which they have been calling for over the years. This move comes on the heels of sugar workers being snubbed by the Government when it announced salary increases for the public sector in November last year. During the campaign trail leading up to the 2015 elections, the APNU/AFC coalition promised sugar workers 20 per cent wage hikes together with a “good life”. But after securing the votes from the sugar belt to get into office, the coalition instead downsized the industry to just three sugar estates, shutting down the Wales, East Demerara (Enmore), Rose Hall and Skeldon factories which resulted in some 7000 sugar workers being placed on the breadline.