GAWU left in the dark about Govt’s intentions

High-level sugar meeting

A head of today’s meeting with several stakeholders in the sugar industry, President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Komal Chand said the union “has no clue” what the Administration will discuss at the gathering, which will include trade unions, the parliamentary Opposition and Government Ministers. Chand made these comments at a press conference held at the Union’s Kingston, Georgetown headquarters on Friday, where he noted that while GAWU was invited for the discussions, Government has not engaged the Union on its positions regarding the future of the industry.

Executive members of GAWU, NAACIE and GLU at a joint press conference on Friday
Executive members of GAWU, NAACIE and GLU at a joint press conference on Friday

“We have no clue what aspects they wish to discuss with us, we have received no documents from them indicating studies that they might have conducted to come to the conclusions they have come to,” the GAWU President observed.

He expressed hope that today’s meeting is not being held just “for public consumption” that consultations were held.

“We hope it would not be that, we hope that there would be proposals that they will come forward with to give us time to respond to them,” Chand stressed.

Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, who has had few meetings with stakeholders in the sugar industry had disclosed on Wednesday that he along with other Government Ministers, including the Minister of State Joseph Harmon, the main political Opposition, People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C), and trade union bodies will meet today to discuss future plans for the sugar industry. The unions include the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) and the Guyana Labour Union (GLU).

These end-of-year consultations are being held on the very day that sugar operations at Wales officially cease, which Government had announced as December 31. That aside, GAWU’s General Secretary, Seepaul Narine, says that while the decision to close Wales was unjustified, it was disappointing that Government officials never visited and listened to the concerns of workers.

“It is indeed disappointing that no Government official has visited Wales and talked to the aggrieved workers about the painful consequences of closure and the plans for the future,” Narine explained.

Speaking on the supposed conversion plans for the Wales Sugar Estate on Wednesday, Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Finance Director, Paul Bhim, explained that some 100 of 1000 workers were identified for the conversion plans and noted that the ploughing of land and husbandry practices – weeding and cleaning of canals were being done. Bhim took time to shut down claims of weed overgrowth at lands prepared by the Sugar Corporation. This was in response to reports this publication received that even though land was prepared, in many instances, no rice was planted and weeds were reportedly taken over some of the plots. Bhim had further explained that “people are on the ground” using chemicals to control the weed situation. However, Komal Chand disclosed that according to reports GAWU received, only 35 out of 480 acres, were “merely levelled off”.

Last Friday, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder had said that the first crop of rice at the Wales Estate was expected by March 2017 but on Thursday last, he clarified that only seedlings were set and that rice will be planted until next year. The Wales Sugar Estate is the oldest of the country’s estates. Earlier this year, Government had confirmed that the estate would be closed by yearend which affected over 1000 workers directly and thousands more in the Wales area and surrounding communities.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo met with the workers and their families on Wednesday. At that meeting, the workers expressed frustration about the uncertainly of how their future will unfold while calling for subsidy for water and electricity to ease their burden as a result of the closure of the factory.