GAWU in dark over conversion plans

Wales Estate closure

Some six months after official confirmation that the sugar operations at Wales Estate will cease, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has not given a definitive pronouncement on how the proposed conversion plans for the Estate will be implemented.
In February, the Minister told the National Assembly that the sugar factory would be converted into a business establishment that will see the rearing of poultry and other livestock.

GAWU President Komal Chand
GAWU President Komal Chand

While these plans will impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of sugar workers, there has been a lack of consultations with the relevant unions. This is the contention of President of the Guyana General and Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand, who told Guyana Times on Tuesday that neither the Agriculture Minister nor the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has given word on the future plans for the Estate.
“In January, they promised to inform us about the new venture, what they hoped to do with the land…we haven’t heard from them and GuySuCo hasn’t got back to us and neither have we heard from the Minister,” Chand noted.
He explained that while Government was not legally required to discuss the new venture as it was a policy position, the livelihood of workers at Wales was at stake; therefore, Government had to engage in discussions with the Union.
With regard to cane planters who are reluctant to transfer their cane to the Uitvlugt Estate, citing transportation costs and implausibility, Chand noted that Government had “a political responsibility” to assist planters in having their canes transferred to the factory on the West Coast of Demerara.
“They [Government] said that, ‘look we are integrating the two estates’,” the GAWU President pointed out.
Chand further related that the 99 workers who have been denied severance pay continued to be unemployed, even though workers wrote GuySuCo earlier in June appealing for jobs while the High Court case on the matter was ongoing.
“GuySuCo has not yet responded to that letter in which the workers appealed to the Sugar Corporation to give them employment in the time which they are waiting to hear the severance case,” Chand said.
Meanwhile, this newspaper has learnt that the Sugar Corporation has filed an affidavit in response to the High Court litigation and GAWU’s legal team was working on its response.
This court action was first brought after GuySuCo began discussions with individual employees of the Wales Estate to negotiate severance packages without informing or involving the unions. At one point, workers were given a three-day ultimatum to make their decision, but GuySuCo subsequently folded these plans as information got out.
On June 7, Justice Roxanne George had granted the Sugar Corporation time to respond to the legal action, which was brought by GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) on the deployment of Wales Estate workers. The case will continue in the High Court on June 28.