GTUC General Secretary, Lincoln Lewis in his column on September 1, 2019, among other things, spoke about the sugar industry as he continued his public disagreement with Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo. While we are aware that Messrs Lewis and Jagdeo have for some weeks now been caught up in a war of words regarding opinion and approach, the GAWU, at the same time, finds it necessary to correct some of the inaccurate statements made in the GTUC General Secretary’s column.
Mr Lewis charges that Mr Jagdeo, during his time as President, closed Diamond Estate. This, however, is not true. The Diamond factory was closed in 1985 and a significant section of the estate’s cultivation was retired. It was ironic that the factory was identified for closure in the first place having been upgraded just prior to its closure. In fact, the Diamond factory has the distinction of having the first punt dumper installed in the industry. It appears that the closure of Diamond, like the recent closure of sugar estates, was not thoroughly considered but premised on whims and fancies.
The columnist also charged that the Diamond workers were represented by now Minister Khemraj Ramjattan in order to receive their severance. This too is not correct. It was the GAWU that approached the courts for its intervention after GuySuCo did not wish to respect the workers right to severance. In fact, Minister Ramjattan, at that time, indicated to a Union leader that he could not find in the law the relevant Section which supported the workers’ right to severance pay. Our Union later withdrew the court action, after the then Government intervened in 2011 and ensured that the relevant law was upheld. Moreover, many of the affected workers were offered employment at Wales Estate and continued to work there until that estate was closed at the end of 2016. Our Union has drawn attention to these facts on several occasions now.
Of course, Mr Lewis would well know that the incumbent Administration ignored the very section and forced the Union and the workers of Wales to approach the courts for justice. As we well know, justice prevailed and the court ruled in the workers’ favour which saw them belatedly receiving their severance payments. Similarly, the workers of East Demerara, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates had some of their severance entitlements wrongly withheld. It was judicial intervention initiated by GAWU that saw that wrong being righted.
The GTUC General Secretary said too that Mr Jagdeo “…closed down LBI estate. Thousands of sugar workers were put on the breadline”. Again, this is not an accurate statement. In 2011, a decision was made to close the LBI factory. The decision was taken against the backdrop of the improvement of the Enmore factory and the construction of the packaging plant which yielded a higher price for the sugar produced. Of the workers affected by the closure, some were retained at LBI to work in the enlarged workshop that was created while the others were transferred to work in the Enmore factory and the newly constructed packaging plant. There was a small number that opted for early retirement instead.
We hasten to point out that in April 2016, the Corporation actually closed the LBI Estate, under the guise of consolidation. In so doing, LBI Estate ceased to exist and a number of workers were shown the door. At that time, the Corporation contended that the decision was taken to safeguard the future operations of East Demerara Estate. As is now well-known, just mere weeks after that decision, the Corporation and the Government announced its intention to fully close East Demerara Estate and put thousands out of work.
We hope that this serves to bring clarity to the reality of the situation at Diamond and LBI Estates and will assist fellow trade unionist Mr Lewis in his future writings on the matter.