GuySuCo being disingenuous on Uitvlugt workers’ protests – GAWU

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union has called out the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) for being disingenuous about the ongoing standoff with Uitvlugt sugar workers.

Workers outside the Uitvlugt factory (file photo)

Since last Wednesday, sugar workers attached to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate have stood on the protest line, demanding that the company implement adequate social distancing protocols and their work hours fall outside the 18:00h-06:00h curfew.
After the company called out GAWU for standing by workers, the Union responded by questioning if it should abandon its members at a time when they were facing adversity at the workplace. The workers’ representative body declared that it would continue to act in defence of these affected persons.
The Union said, “It appears that the company is seeking for us to abandon our members when they are facing adversity and difficulty at the workplace. We thought, given our more than 40-year relationship with the Corporation, the management would know by now that the Union will continue to provide principled leadership and guidance and will defend our members and workers generally.”
After claims were made that the workers began picketing without adherence to the Collective Labour Agreement, GAWU clarified that protest action ensued after the company took a decision without any engagement with the Union or workers.
The statement outlined, “It appeared that the GuySuCo has dismissed or wilfully ignored that soon after the commencement of the out-of-crop, our Union, at the local level, engaged the Estate hierarchy and some consensus was reached. Subsequently, there was apparently a change of heart by the GuySuCo and it sought to impose its will without consulting the workers or re-engaging the Union as was initially done. To now seek to chastise the Union and the workers is misleading, at the very least.”
The Union said that GuySuCo appeared to be critical of the workers’ decision to protect themselves against COVID-19 and its threats. The body said it had already reached a consensus with the company on ceasing operations, which was later backpedalled on.
“GuySuCo speaks about production being interrupted, but yet it fails to disclose that the cessation came against the backdrop of workers merely seeking to avoid contracting the coronavirus. Certainly, given all we have read and heard, the workers had every right to protect their health and well-being. On this score too, the Corporation did not say that it engaged the Union on the matter and agreed to the cessation of operations for some period. Now to engage in an obtuse obfuscation of the facts is disturbing,” GAWU said.
It was disclosed that while the Corporation claims that the work period ended at 16:00h, it failed to mention that there were two shifts – one of which ended during the curfew hours.
“Regarding the employees’ request to be organised into two five-hour shifts, the Corporation failed to indicate that this practice is embraced in other areas of its operations at the very estate. We are supportive of that policy by the GuySuCo as it minimises the number of persons present at any one time and thus, in effect, promotes adequate social distancing. We ask what is so wrong with the factory workers demanding similar measures?” the Union questioned.
At this time, GAWU said it was only focused on addressing the plights of these workers, taking into account that thousands have already fallen on the breadline. While workers have remained ‘open-minded’, it concluded that the company “has closed its mind, ears and eyes to any rational suggestion or sober discussions”.

Unresolved problem
Another issue which has been plaguing the Uitvlugt factory is the constant mechanical breakdowns recorded in the past months. Recently, the Corporation came out to address these issues, claiming that it has still kept the operations alive.
But the Union responded, “It is to the credit of the very workers the Corporation is now disparaging, that they have kept the operations running in spite of the very difficulties they have had to contend with. We are hopeful that the factory maladies which have plagued the estate for a few crops now can be resolved, but this must be done in an environment whereby workers can be safe.”
While the Corporation touts its COVID-19 policy, GAWU said the apprehensions of workers could not be disregarded, especially when account was taken of the many asymptomatic COVID-19 cases locally.
“At this time, the GAWU seeks, once more, that better sense prevails and that the workers’ concerns attract an open-minded approach. We believe this will be helpful as we move forward in these unusual times.”