Over 400 sugar workers to be rehired by year-end – GuySuCo CEO
…closed estates expected to be fully functional by 2023/24
By Lakhram Bhagirat
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government is forging ahead with the phased reopening of three of the four sugar factories which have been closed by the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) administration, and has since commenced the rehiring process of some of the retrenched sugar workers.
That position was relayed by newly appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Sasenarine Singh, on Thursday when he toured the factory at Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara (WCD).
The purpose of Singh’s visit was to get a firsthand look at the operations of the factory and identify the issues that need resolution to make the sugar industry once again a viable one.
Singh, during his meeting with stakeholders, said the Corporation has already commenced the process of rehiring sugar workers who had lost their jobs under the last administration.
“With the three estates (Skeldon, Rose Hall, Enmore), I can tell you now, according to the work plan that we have, 442 people will be hired back by Christmas this year. Which is just a matter of 11 weeks away. They were actually already hired, about 200 of those people have been on the books. They are incrementally hiring as the work expands, ‘cause we doing it as a business now. We are not just going out and hire, we are hiring as needed,” the CEO said.
Back in 2016, the former APNU/AFC closed the Wales Estate, and the following year, shut down the Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon Estates, putting over 7000 sugar workers on the breadline. The downsizing of the sugar industry saw only the Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion Estates in operation.
CEO Singh has said it is the plan of the administration to revert the operations of GuySuCo to six factories, as opposed to the current three. He noted that the plan is there, and it is one that will see the industry being led down the path of profitability.
“GuySuCo has to move up the value chain. It is a two-pronged process. Revenue stream has to go up, and the only way we can get revenue stream to go up is to move to higher-value sugar-related products. For example, GuySuCo has in its possession a feasibility study for a white sugar refinery. That is something that is under serious consideration right now by the administration.
“Packaging sugar, we have to go more into packaging sugar, because we get a greater value. We can get packaging sugar as high as US$700 a ton, and we sell sugar on the bulk sugar market and we get almost US$300 less than that.
“We are moving everything up the value chain. Bag sugar, packaged sugar, a refinery is a big focus,” Singh explained.
Singh, a financial analyst by profession, noted that the administration is currently examining GuySuCo’s books in an effort to “deep dive” into all the cost elements to find out where the Corporation’s money is going. He said that after they would have identified where the money is going, they would put mechanisms in place to redirect the funds to areas that bring value to the entity.
“While we are adding value, we are pushing down expenses, and we are doing the modelling that we can make this industry a going concern, which is the mandate that the President has offered to us. He said that you guys have to make this place a going concern,” he told stakeholders.
Rose Hall, Skeldon, Enmore
Since being downsized, GuySuCo has been struggling to meet its production target, and has had to revise the target on several occasion. In fact, only earlier this month, the Guyana General and Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) criticised the sugar corporation for failing to meet its already lowered revised production target for this year.
The Union body said the industry was heading towards its worst production output in history, and blamed the “lackadaisical” attitude of the leadership of GuySuCo for the present state of affairs.
Singh told Guyana Times, following his tour of the Uitvlugt Factory, that he would have been personally assessing the situation at the closed estates and they would have crafted the plan for the reopening. The CEO said that since the closure of the estates, it appears that they have been virtually abandoned, resulting in major mechanical issues and destruction of critical pieces of equipment.
He noted that, at all the closed estates, the Special Purposes Unit (SPU) had allowed machinery and the factories to lie still, which has resulted in major damages. As such, the onus is now on the Corporation to get those machineries back in working condition to prepare for the reopening.
In addition to machinery, the cane lands have been abandoned as well, and are now infested with bushes. Singh explained that now they have to clear those bushes and prepare the land once again for the planting of cane.
“The good news I heard from Rose Hall today (Thursday) is that they started clearing the land for the planting of the cane, and that is a big, big important step, because once that cane is planted, an entire project plan is developed. It means: from the planting of cane, a factory has to receive it. You can’t plant cane and leave it in the ground, so it kicks off immediately a plan to start revitalising the factory to receive those canes to start producing sugar,” he noted.
It was related that the current focus seems to be on Rose Hall because the estate had canes that used to be processed at Albion Factory. Now those canes would be used as a start-up for the Rose Hall operation.
“We are working hard to get Rose Hall grinding by the first crop of 2022; and 2022 will be a big year in the life of GuySuCo,” he said.
The PPP, during its campaign for office, promised to ensure that every retrenched sugar worker is rehired when the estates reopen. However, Singh said that while he is cognizant of that promise, it is one that does not look achievable at this time.
“With regards to the full measure, when the project is up and running by 2023/2024, when it is fully functional, I don’t think we will ever go back to the 6000-6500 (workers), but clearly it will be more than 3000 people will be back in the industry when it is fully running.
“So, every year GuySuCo has a programme plan where they are mechanising a piece of the field every year. Enmore, as you know, is about 80 per cent mechanised. Albion is actively mechanising, and I saw the mechanised field in action at Albion. It produces more cane; it requires less human intervention, and the productivity is higher; and so it’s back-breaking work. You got to plan all the time to make sure that GuySuCo is going with the social evolution that is happening in Guyana; so, no, it will not be the 6000/6500,” Singh further explained.
However, he said that priority is being given to every sugar worker when it comes to job openings.
“You have to plant the cane first before you can harvest and grind it, so most of the focus now is to get the land occupied and planted, and we are making sure we have enough planting material. There are all kinds of limitations, but we are pushing them. There are equipment limitations, and we are going out to the market to see how much we can hire and rent from the private sector. There are planting material limitations, we are trying to explore opportunities and see if we can bring them from other societies,” he said.
In an effort to bring back the sugar sector to its previous state of profitability, the PPP/C Government had approached India for assistance with the reopening of the closed estates. The Indian Government had, in the past, offered technical assistance to Guyana in the sugar sector, but this was never capitalised on by the former coalition Government.
Meanwhile, the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) has also called on the new Government to revive the closed estates in order to boost the production of molasses, which is a key and critical ingredient in several industries here.
Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) is the largest local consumer of molasses, and since the closure of the estates, the beverage giant has had to import molasses from various countries, including Guatemala and Mexico, which it is currently buying from. Although Uitvlugt was producing molasses, the quantity was insufficient, thus forcing DDL to import the deficit amount for its production.
In the 2020 Budget, GuySuCo has been allocated $3 billion. According to the CEO, $2.2 billion will be pumped into the reopening of the estates, while $0.8 billion will go towards maintenance of the existing estates at Uitvlugt, Albion and Blairmont.