New Govt vows to champion workers’ rights

…President Ali commits to restoring sugar industry to viability

Vowing to be a Government that will champion workers’ rights, President Dr Irfaan Ali on Saturday renewed his commitment to restore the once-profitable sugar industry in Guyana.

File photo: Workers protesting at the Enmore Estate in March 2017

During his inauguration speech at the National Cultural Centre, Ali lamented that “the sugar industry has virtually been abandoned in the past five years, and the workers have been deserted.”
According to Ali, no attempt has been made to seek a new path by which aspects of the industry could be salvaged for the production of profitable sugar and sugar-based niche products, that would maintain jobs, and maintain the dignity of labour.
The Head of State explained that while “we are still putting together the torn fragments”, the picture of the industry appears “deeply distressing”.
He referred to the assets of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), which he said seemed to have been stripped and disposed of by the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL). The Government had embarked on divesting the assets of the Sugar Company – along with shutting down four sugar estates – in what they claimed was a bid to return the sector to profitability. But instead, thousands of workers were thrown on the breadline with no plan in place to ensure they continue to earn a living. Making matters worse, the sugar industry is nowhere close to viability.

File photo: Sugar workers during a protest in front of the then Ministry of the Presidency calling for better wages

Dr Ali bemoaned that “the once greatest contributor to our nation’s economy, has been beaten down to its knees, and the workers tossed to a heap of unemployment and misery.”
In this regard, he reiterated the promise he made on the campaign trail, that is, to restore the industry.
“We intend to raise up the industry and to help it and its workers resume the once proud place in our economy,” Dr Ali expressed.
The sugar industry is not the only sector of the economy that President Ali made reference to during his feature address.
In fact, he said there are many other sectors in the economy that performed dismally during the APNU/AFC regime – and he intends to restore them to their former glory.
“It is bad enough that I must draw your attention to other areas in our economy, including bauxite, rice, agriculture, forestry, mining. We have already commenced work to ensure we do all that is necessary amid the constraints to put back these industries on the path of development.”

More specifically, Ali said his Government will work to champion workers’ rights, and he indicated that the establishment of the Ministry of Labour is a testimony of that commitment. The Labour Ministry, under the David Granger Administration, was reduced to a mere department within the Social Protection Ministry and union leaders had accused the agency of not effectively and efficiently dealing with labour-related issues.

President Irfaan Ali and First Lady Arya Ali at their Inauguration Ceremony on Saturday at the National Cultural Centre. Inset are: a section of the gathering that included Suriname’s President Chandrikapersad Santokhi; Guyana’s Prime Minister, Mark Phillips, and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo; the Guyana Defence Force performing a musical rendition, and a dance by Indigenous dancers

But Ali said his Government will dismantle the policies of the previous Administration, which, he said, “created an environment completely unfavourable to workers”.
“The new Ministry of Labour that we have just created will be tasked with the noble undertaking of creating work, rewarding labour with adequate wages, and of respecting the rights of workers in every sector, every industry, every business. We intend to give workers the place of pride they deserve and the rewards that they merit,” the new President posited.
According to the Guyanese Head of State, “the people of this country must not be second- and third-class citizens in their own land.”
He added that “their rights and entitlements must be protected or the struggle of our great labour leaders Bahadur Singh, JA Nicholson, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow and Ashton Chase would have been in vain.” (G11)