GuySuCo to meet residents of ‘sugar dependent’ communities
In wake of mass protests against closure of estates
The Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo) has announced in a statement issued on Monday that it will be commencing a community outreach programme for residents in ‘sugar dependent’ communities in the villages where estates are located. Meetings will be held at the community centres, the Corporation has said.
The first community meeting will be held at the Wales Community Centre on June 29, and the second will be held at the Uitvlugt Community Centre on July 5, at 4:00 pm. The focus for discussion of these two meetings will be the ‘Uitvlugt Estate Improvement Programme (UEIP)’ and other matters related to GuySuCo.
On July 6, another community meeting will be held at the Enmore Community Centre for residents in Enmore and neighbouring communities. The focus for this meeting and those to be held at Blairmont, Rose Hall, Albion and Skeldon community centres will be ‘The Role of Communities in Improving Attendance on Estates for the Second Crop 2017’, as well as other GuySuCo-related matters.
“The aim of this outreach programme is to mobilise cane harvesters, planters, cane transport operators (and) their families and communities around the importance of improving attendance at all estates, in order to sustain the industry,” GuySuCo said in the statement.
The objectives of the meetings are to create a greater awareness of the need for employees to turn out to ensure that the canes are harvested within the crop; mobilise the residents around estates to encourage employees to improve attendance; mobilise community leaders and other stakeholders, such as customers, suppliers, government, private and civil society sectors, around the importance of improving attendance on all estates; create a greater awareness of the importance of the sugar industry and GuySuCo to the development of Guyana; (to examine) the linkages between increased attendance and greater commitment to sustaining the industry; and to build greater partnerships and engage more strategically with communities and other partners around estates.
General Secretary of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Seepaul Narine, only recently condemned GuySuCo for what he feels is an attempt to “denigrate” the union’s “unrelenting and principled stance” in defending the rights of thousands of sugar workers.
The sugar workers, their families and other stakeholders have been protesting Government’s move to discontinue operations at several sugar estates, as confirmed in this year’s State Paper on the industry’s future.
GuySuCo’s Senior Communications Officer Audreyanna Thomas last week penned a letter to the editor which noted that the Corporation is seeking those sugar workers who were “misled”. However, GAWU has indicated that Thomas’s letter was just another “public relations stunt” that discredits the union’s defending the many cross-sections of workers who stand to be affected by what the union termed “ill-conceived plans” that GuySuCo has advocated for the sugar industry.
“From the Corporation’s letter, it seems that the Union-organised protests at several estates are getting under the not-too-thick skin of the Corporation and its handlers. Our most recent activity at Albion attracted an appreciable turnout and demonstrates the disagreement, shared not only by workers and their families, (but by) the wider communities,” the union official stated in a lengthy release issued on Thursday last.
Some 375 Wales workers have been out of employment since GuySuCo closed that estate at the end of 2016. They contend that they cannot be compelled to travel 22 miles from Wales, West Bank Demerara to Uitvlugt, on the West Coast of Demerara. On that ground they have demanded severance payment, but the Corporation contends that all workers who opted for severance had already been paid. This matter is slated to come up in the High Court.
“GuySuCo says it will demand very soon a ‘higher level’ of service from GAWU. But such a call is best suited to GuySuCo. Our Union, nevertheless, is supportive of all plans which will secure the sugar industry, but at the same time cannot lend a supporting voice to plans which will wreck lives and imperil entire communities, as we have seen playing out at Wales,” Narine has pointedly expressed.
The GAWU General Secretary further highlighted the uncertainties of the diversification plans the sugar corporation has, plans which Agriculture Minister Noel Holder had announced last year.
Narine went on to explain that, up until now, no worker has been given any land to capitalise on the supposed diversification plans. He noted that GuySuCo, like a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, goes on to speak to provision of transportation and medical services to the workers and their families and pensioners.
“Is the company expecting the agriculture workers to join public transportation from their homes at 05:00 am and travel to the cultivation some 5 to 10 miles in rugged off-road terrain?” he questioned.
Narine also reiterated that, in the main, GAWU strikes are related to price disputes. He noted that sugar workers have encountered two years of no pay increases; were “shortchanged” on API in 2015, and were given no API in 2016; and that there was arbitrary cutting down of workers’ benefits.
“We take serious and utmost umbrage with GuySuCo’s view that the GAWU is engaged in sabotage. This is completely unfounded, and (is) a figment of someone’s imagination. Moreover, the Corporation also seems to question the wisdom of the workers’ protest actions. But wouldn’t any rational person whose livelihood is threatened take a similar approach? Ms Thomas and her colleagues ensconced in the comforts of GuySuCo hierarchy would sing a different tune had the shoe been on the other foot,” the GAWU General Secretary stressed.
Finance Minister Winston Jordan, in his presentation of the 2017 Budget, had indicated that the status quo at the sugar industry could neither be sustained nor maintained. He had explained that, based on the CoI, it was concluded that any money injected into the sugar industry in its current state was money wasted.