Once again, sugar workers across the country are seemingly forced to take strike action to have an increase in wages and salaries be considered by the APNU/AFC Government. Reportedly, they have not received an increase over the past five years and strongly believe that they are being discriminated against. This most recent strike began earlier this week and the outcome remains uncertain for this holiday period.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) stated that the strike action is aimed to persuade the Government to end the wage freeze on sugar workers. It should be noted that the Government is a major stakeholder in the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). As such, it must be aware of the ongoing plight the workers faced from not having an increase over the past five years. During that time, the cost of living would have drastically increased.
While GuySuCo has its challenges, the callous manner in which the Government treats the sugar workers is very noticeable. Shortly after its tenure began in May 2015, the APNU/AFC Government closed a few estates without considering alternative employment for the workers. More so, its decision to close the estates glaringly ignored a report it conducted.
In addition, many of the workers did not receive their entitled severance pay and were forced to take court action. In the meantime, the affected workers wallowed in uncertainty and despair. Many questions, therefore, abound as to why the APNU/AFC coalition government seemingly has no regard for the welfare of the country’s sugar workers.
Why would the APNU/AFC Government, which boasted of being caring, treat the sugar workers in the manner it continues to do? Why would the Government close those estates, make thousands jobless and then deny them their severance pay? Why would the Government seemingly deliberately inflict such hardships on ordinary hardworking Guyanese?
Many alluded to political vendetta on the part of the APNU/AFC coalition premised on sugar workers forming the primary support base for the People’s Progressive Party. The APNU/AFC Government, through its actions then and up to this point, would have done little to dispel the belief that vendetta may have been foremost in the actions meted out to the sugar workers.
Just recently, when the Government announced retroactive salary increases for public servants, the sugar workers were not considered. At no point during the announcement was there any utterance to end the wage freeze imposed on those sugar workers. They are humans and must feel a sense of discrimination when, over the last five years, other categories of workers are afforded deserved salary increases and they are side-lined.
It is also very demeaning for the sugar workers to be constantly ignored by the APNU/AFC Government and be forced to take strike action just to get the attention of officials. It appears that the Government is stuck with the particular mantra of non-availability of funds when it comes to the sugar workers.
While doing so, it was able to find monies for the deserved increase to public servants to fund its ongoing and seemingly extravagant outreaches across the country and millions for five drones for the Guyana Defence Force (GDF).
There is no questioning that the GDF needs equipment to help boost its surveillance capacity; however, the $180-dollar+ price tag for five drones continues to raise eyebrows. Experts have stated that the said sum could have bought aircraft instead, thereby better equipping the army. Some have even posited that the price tag of some 36 million for one drone is ludicrous.
Such seemingly lavish spending suggests that there are financial resources available to the APNU/AFC Government for it to address the welfare of the sugar workers. The belief is, and again gauging from its own actions, the Government has different priorities. That in itself could suggest that the welfare of the sugar workers is not a priority. How else the manner in which those workers are being treated could be explained?
Despite the onerous work and despite the vital contributions they make towards sugar being a foreign exchange earner, sugar workers seem to be overlooked by the APNU/AFC Government. This also seems evident from the lack of meaningful intervention on the part of the Government to mitigate the horrendous social impact the closure of the estates has inflicted upon the sugar workers and their families.
Many are reeling from this as humiliation continues to exacerbate having been made to depend on handouts. From what they have been made to endure, it appears that within the past five years, sugar workers have seemingly been reduced to a point of insignificance.
That may have exposed the duplicity of APNU/AFC’s promise of being caring towards Guyanese workers. Had care been demonstrated, more than likely, the strike action could have been unnecessary as the belief of being discriminated against.