Cold, heartless approach regarding sugar industry – GAWU

Some 9000 workers are being affected by the cold and heartless approach taken by the Government in relation to the sugar industry, according to the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).
GAWU executive member Gordon Thomas, at the annual Enmore Martyrs Rally on Friday, expressed those sentiments.
Enmore Martyrs Day is observed annually to honour the sacrifice of five sugar workers –Harry, Lallabajee, Pooran, Rambarran and Surujballi – who were killed in 1948 by colonial police while protesting the social and economic conditions on East Coast Demerara plantations. A monument was erected in honour of the five men, every year wreaths are laid at the site, and the observance is encapsulated by a rally at which various speeches are made by political parties and union representatives.
In delivering his address, Thomas said the Enmore Martyrs observances also bring to attention the often-ignored contributions of sugar workers and the sugar industry to the nation and its people. “We see a very cold and heartless approach being taken regarding the sugar industry, and which has already resulted in many thousands connected to the operations being affected,” he said.
“At this time, we are mindful of the expressed plans to minimise the sugar industry through the closure of Enmore and Rose Hall estates and the sale of Skeldon estate. Taken together with Wales, some 9000 workers will be affected by these plans. What is worse is that there is no proper plan to address the difficulties that would face the people who are, and who stand to be, affected,” he added.
He accused the Government of trampling on the very thing the martyrs fought for, adding that the lack of a plan for unemployed sugar workers only pushes them further into poverty. Thomas posited that the challenges of the industry could be overcome through diversification in the areas of white sugar, alcohol, packaged sugar and electricity production.
The former Wales Estate employee said the industry, through dedication of its workers, has overcome several challenges faced in the past; and if the right approach is taken, it could flourish once again.

Downsizing imminent
However, Citizenship Minister Winston Felix, in delivering the keynote address, stated that downsizing of the sugar industry is imminent, and it would only make the industry more viable in the long term. “The cost of upkeeping the operations of GuySuCo as it is today is untenable; it does not make economic sense,” he told the gathering. “Under this administration, the Wales sugar factory was closed at the end of 2016, with approximately 300 employees opting for, and receiving, severance packages. The Government now proposes, as part of its ongoing efforts at saving sugar in Guyana, further rationalization and streaming of the operation,” he added.
The minister noted that the rationalization would include the sale of Skeldon sugar factor and closure of the Rose Hall and Enmore factories. All these proposed closures and sales have been met with protest from the workers, who accuse the Government of not having a plan to incorporate them into other industries so that they can earn and provide for their families.
However, Felix said the White Paper presented in Parliament outlines the Government’s plan for the industry. He said the paper outlines a small sugar sector with reduced losses and cash deficits; and this, coupled with diversification, is the much-needed ingredient to keep the industry afloat and profitable.

Fight to save sugar
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, in a meeting at Enmore, East Coast Demerara on Wednesday, called on all Guyanese and people living in the sugar belt to continue to fight to save the industry. The Enmore Sugar Estate is slated for closure by year end, and sellers in the area have said they are already feeling the impact of the imminent closure.
The Opposition Leader highlighted the dangers that lie ahead for the 10,000 workers who stand to lose their jobs, and the hardships it would visit on their families, and added that the closure of the industry has the potential to affect close to 50,000 people, and in his view it was a “political, discriminatory decision on the part of the Government”.
Jagdeo reiterated that the sugar industry could be sustained and become viable if more attention were placed on fixing the current problems. He also recalled that between 1976 and 1996, sugar made a huge contribution to the Treasury in the form of the sugar levy.
The Agro-Industrial Workers’ Union (AIWU) of the Russian Federation, the Amalgamated Trade Union of Swaziland (ATUSWA), and the Hindustan Unilever Ltd (PPF) Workers’ Union Doom Dooma in India have all come out and pledged their support in the fight against the downsizing of the sugar industry.