…says political will needed to turn around industry
The Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) in its Arrival Day message took the opportunity to laud the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government for its demonstrated commitment to revitalising sugar.
According to the Union, the PPP’s term in office has so far shown the contrast with the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC), under which a number of sugar estates were closed and thousands of workers displaced.
“Today as we celebrate Arrival Day, the GAWU cannot fail to observe that the industry that occasioned our diversity is being revitalised. Our Union recognises that the industry remains critical to the sustenance and well-being of thousands of Guyanese,” GAWU said.
“The efforts to push the industry into obscurity by the past regime is well documented and the hardship it created is well-known. We are encouraged by the actions and utterances of the new Government, which has demonstrated its commitment. Sugar, we reiterate, has all possibilities of success but, among other things, requires the active and material support and confidence of the powers-that-be.”
When it comes to Arrival Day itself, GAWU noted that the day serves as a reminder of the diversity in Guyana. They also noted that outside of the East Indians, a number of other groups arrived in Guyana including the Madeiran Portuguese in May 1835 and the Chinese in 1853. Additionally, GAWU noted that the colonialists also brought labourers from Malta, Ireland, Germany and England.
The Union reminded Guyanese that as they celebrate Arrival Day, they spare a moment to reflect on how far Guyanese have come and the challenges they have overcome. In addition, the Union urged Guyanese to beware of efforts by others to reverse all the development progress that has been made.
“The observances always serve to remind us of the rich diversity and the unique multi-cultural composition of our nation. Indeed, it adds to the specialness of Guyana that people of different backgrounds can co-exist in harmony and unity as they all seek to improve their lives a goal linked to building our country which will surely augur well for the future generations,” GAWU said.
“Arrival Day also reminds us of the reasons for the indentureship system. The then immigrants who replaced the emancipated slaves were made to toil in the fields of the sugar plantations to enrich the foreign owners of the plantations. Indentured labourers and their families were forced to exist in inhumane and atrocious conditions. And, like their compatriots, they were forced to engage in several struggles, which gave us several martyrs, to bring about small improvements and meagre benefits in their lives and work conditions.”
As part of its policy to downsize sugar, the former APNU/AFC Government had closed down the Rose Hall, Skeldon, Wales and Enmore sugar estates. The downsizing of the sugar industry saw only the Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion Estates remaining in operation. However, their decision to close estates went against what their own Commission of Inquiry (CoI) recommended.
Critically, the former Government made no provisions for sugar workers, who were thrown on the breadline and had to protest for their severance payments. Communities in the sugar belt suffered the devastating economic and social effects of the estate closures, as families were left with no income and breadwinners were left unemployed. Even the remaining estates were left unable to meet their targets.
In an effort to bring back the sugar sector to its previous state of profitability, the PPP/C Government had approached India for assistance with the reopening of the closed estates. The Indian Government had, in the past, offered technical assistance to Guyana in the sugar sector, but this was never capitalised on by the former coalition Government.
The Government has also set itself the Herculean task of ensuring that the closed estates are fully functional by 2023/2024. GuySuCo was also allocated $5 billion in the 2020 budget and $2 billion for capital works in the 2021 budget.