Doesn’t the well-being of sugar workers matter?

Dear Editor,
Mr Fritz McLean, a member of the GuySuCo Board, in a letter he authored which appeared in another section of the media on December 5, said: “…the mentors and strategists of the sugar union leadership are contriving to rub salt in the extant economic and financial wounds of the industry.” While we are unsure what Mr McLean meant when he said “…the mentors and strategists of the sugar union leadership…” we wish to tell him that decisions of the Union are taken by the Union and the Union alone. We say this bearing in mind that it appears the GuySuCo Director is inferring that the workers’ recent protest action was influenced by persons outside of the Union. This, of course, is a clear disconnect from reality.
Mr McLean then said we are seeking “…to rub salt in the extant economic and financial wounds of the industry.” But what about the wounds inflicted on the sugar workers? Hasn’t too much salt been rubbed in already? Isn’t it unfair that they are left behind? Doesn’t it bother Mr McLean that sugar workers’ pay rates have remained parked in 2014 while they exist in 2019? The letter writer, given his vantage point, is well aware of the representations being made for sugar workers to be granted a pay rise. Given his long association with sugar, Mr McLean would well know that this is the longest period, in the era of state-ownership, that sugar workers have remained without any improvement in wages. It is now more than 1800 days since sugar workers last benefitted from a rise in pay, hasn’t enough salt already been rubbed into their wounds?
The GuySuCo Board member next said, “…it will be difficult to navigate a middle ground position bearing in mind management’s recent articulation to the sugar unions of the corporation’s financial circumstances.” What is this ‘middle ground’ that is referred to? The most recent engagement between the Union and the GuySuCo concerned a presentation on the Corporation’s plans for the future. We shared, through a press statement, our views about that engagement. Several aspects of that statement were published by several media entities. We would want to believe that Mr McLean would have seen the statement and if he has not, he can visit the Union’s website to obtain a copy. In that statement, we mentioned during our engagement with GuySuCo the matter of a pay rise. The Corporation which was led by no less than its Chief Executive acknowledged that this matter was a burning issue. There was a general recognition that a pay rise to workers is needed and must be addressed. At that meeting, the GuySuCo team expressed optimism that discussions taking place would lend to some positive movement.
The letter writer strangely digresses saying “[w]ith negotiations in progress for the sale of closed estates at a critical stage, not only will the ongoing unstable industrial situation in the industry jeopardise a favourable outcome for the vendors…”. It appears, Mr McLean missed that the Government had indicated that divestment of the sugar estates has been put on pause. The August 16 edition of <<<Guyana Times>>> quoted Finance Minister, Winston Jordan as saying “[t]he sale of the estates has been delayed… and I don’t think at this stage, given our status as interim, we will want to engage in any major privatisation at this time”.
While there is continued focus on the bottom-line, we ask what about the bottom-line of the workers and their families. Isn’t this important too? Don’t their and their families matter or are they just another factor of production, faceless and nameless, without any need or want? Mr McLean would remember the days when sugar carried the country on its back. He would recall when the efforts of the same workers he accuses of ‘rubbing salt’ ensured that the country moved forward. Even today the industry it is one of our nation’s critical and few foreign exchange earners, doesn’t that count for something? Don’t the people in the industry matter?

Yours faithfully,
Seepaul Narine
General Secretary, GAWU