Uitvlugt sugar workers call for outstanding wage dispute to be resolved
Workers attached to the Uitvlugt Estate, West Coast Demerara (WCD), have joined calls for the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) to resume discussions on the wage/salary improvements for the period 2019 to 2021.
As such, the workers staged a picketing exercise on Friday morning.
In a subsequent statement, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) explained that at its last meeting with GuySuCo on March 9, 2021, the parties left with the unambiguous understanding that the Corporation would inform the Union of its position by the end of March.
After not hearing from the sugar company, GAWU said it wrote GuySuCo a month later on April 9 but the sugar company has not yet acknowledged the Union’s correspondence.
“The workers held that the GuySuCo was disrespectful to them and the Union. They shared that GuySuCo has boasted of massive investments in the fields and factories but there is no such boisterousness when it comes to addressing the plight of the workers. The workers contended in as much as the Corporation recognised the need for investment in its physical assets, its human assets also required some level of investment as well,” the Union said in Friday’s missive.
It went on to highlight the workers’ frustration over the pay freeze they suffered under the coalition’s term in office, noting that some of them were earning just above the national minimum wage.
“This, they said, was hardly sufficient to take care of their families. Workers shared that they recognised the plight of the Corporation and were in empathy but nonetheless believed that something should be done to at least alleviate their situation as efforts are furthered to turn the industry around. Key to the success of the industry’s climb from the doldrums is a motivated and committed workforce,” the GAWU statement outlined.
Nevertheless, the workers expressed delight at the recent comments of GuySuCo Chief Executive Officer, Sasenarine Singh, who said in an interview that the Corporation is seeking to sell sugar at higher prices.
This initiative is lauded by the sugar workers, who are hopeful that even greater quantities of sugar can be sold in the new markets touted. Workers held that their efforts are partially responsible for the improvements heralded and they ought to receive some due reward for their contributions.
Meanwhile, GAWU said it remains open to frank discussions with the Corporation.
“The GAWU and the workers are eager to find an amicable settlement that is fair to all sides. It is our belief that a settlement could be within reach, but it requires an open mind on all sides. We believe at this time no stone should be unturned as the workers, the Union and the Corporation put their best foot forward to reinvigorating the sugar industry,” the statement outlined.
Efforts to contact GuySuCo officials, as well as Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha on this matter, proved futile.
Only in March, GAWU had accused GuySuCo of dragging its foot on the issue of wage increases for workers at the Albion, Corentyne, and Blairmont, West Coast Berbice Estates.
GAWU had explained then that salary negotiations have been ongoing for years and the Corporation seems to not be interested in bringing an end to the discussions.
At the time, the Union said that the new GuySuCo administration was informed that discussions should recommence on the issues surrounding the 2019 pay rise since it was agreed to and the workers were asked to exercise patience while the Corporation comes up with a solution.
Following the March 9 meeting, GAWU said: “…the Corporation sought the Union to table proposals on wages/salaries for years 2019, 2020, and 2021. The GAWU’s delegation, which comprised representatives from the various estates along with Union officials, was most upset as it pointed out that the GuySuCo was already in receipt of proposals for years 2019 and 2020. Therefore, it found the request bizarre and bluntly refused to accede to GuySuCo’s demand.”
The workers’ vexations were heightened then, after the Corporation, maybe inadvertently, disclosed the quantum of pay rise proposed for 2021 but yet refused to put it on the table.
When the PPP/C took office in August 2020, it highlighted that due to gross neglect under the APNU/AFC coalition regime, the three existing factories – Uitvlugt, Blairmont and Albion – were only operating at 40-60 per cent capacity.
However, since then, efforts to revive GuySuCo have been on track with these three estates recording the highest daily production for 2021 as well as 2020 at 710 metric tonnes of sugar on March 11.
Since taking office, the PPP/C Administration has injected some 7 billion dollars into the sugar industry – $5 billion in the 2020 Emergency Budget and a further $2 billion in this year’s budget – to help in the turnaround of the sector.