As sugar workers attached to the Uitvlugt Sugar Estate, West Coast Demerara (WCD) continued to protest against their work hours and outstanding payments, they were forced to disperse after Police clamped down on them Thursday morning.
The workers downed their tools on Wednesday and continued their protest on Thursday as they remain staunch in their request for appropriate measures to be in place to promote social distancing while ensuring their hours-of-work remained outside the national 18:00h-06:00h curfew.
However, in a statement on Thursday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said that the workers were continuing their “legitimate and peaceful protest” action when they were confronted by a contingent of Police Officers who instructed them to end their activity.
The Union described this development as most disturbing.
“…it seems attempts are being made to trample on the rights of the workers. While we are unsure of how the Police arrived at the scene, the workers were most upset that their peaceful activity was abruptly and forcibly terminated,” GAWU said in the missive.
According to the Union, it has observed an increased Police presence at protest activities involving sugar workers and could not ignore that a certain trend was emerging.
“We certainly hope that security services are [not] being utilised to minimise workers’ voices as they seek to have their rights and gains respected,” it asserted.
The Police presence at the protest followed a meeting between the Union and the Uitvlugt estate management earlier Thursday morning.
At the engagement, GAWU said the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) remained adamant that the workers be organised to work two shifts though the second shift would conclude in the curfew period. Workers have been complaining of facing difficulties with the Police on their way home from work during the curfew period.
GAWU argued that its and the workers’ concerns regarding the difficulties the workers faced on their return home appeared to have been ignored or did not attract the Sugar Corporation’s concern.
“Quite rationally, it was felt that the workers’ principled concerns would have been taken into account. Moreover, bearing in mind that other sections of the workforce are already enjoying similar work arrangements, the workers affected would also be treated equitably as they merely seek to protect themselves and families from the dreaded COVID-19 virus. It sadly seems this is not to be the case,” the Union asserted.
It went on to reiterate calls for better sense to prevail and for an amicable and workable arrangement to be arrived at. GAWU said it believed that a “sober and sincere consideration” of the workers’ views should be pursued and recognition paid to the harm they could face at this time.
“Our surmounting of this difficult period can only come through our collective actions to take protective and preventative actions to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and it is against such a background the workers call should be respected,” the Union contended.
The workers are also protesting over the delay in their holiday-with-pay payments for those who have 10 or more years of service.
Sugar workers employed in the fields and the factories receive holiday-with-pay payments in lieu of annual leave – an arrangement that is among the benefits set out in the extant Collective Labour Agreement between the Union and GuySuCo.
However, GAWU said the payment has been delayed for two weeks now. On Wednesday, the Union was informed by GuySuCo during the day that the workers would finally receive their outstanding monies on May 29, 2020 (today). “…It appeared hadn’t the workers raised their voices in protest, they may have continued to see their payments withheld. The GAWU is heartened that the workers can receive their outstanding entitlements, though it is saddened that they were forced to take protest actions to have their rights respected,” the Union stated.