Entire Sugar industry shuts down
GuySuCo does not have money to pay workers
Another hard blow has hit the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo), as sugar workers across the country downed their tools in reaction to GuySuCo’s withdrawal from wages and salaries negotiation with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).
On Tuesday, GuySuCo withdrew from the negotiation after receiving information that a section of LBI workers commenced strike action to voice their disapproval at the Corporation’s wage offer for the year 2009 among other issues.
However, at a press conference held by GAWU yesterday, it was explained that the reason cited by GuySuCo is not the cause for the workers going on strike at the LBI estates.
As a matter of fact, the workers downed tools to press their demand to obtain an acceptable target for sugar production for their Estate (LBI), and to secure weekly production incentive (WPI) for week-ending October 17, 2009.
General Secretary of GAWU, Seepaul Narine, said that the corporation, recognising that its target to produce 290,000 tonnes of sugar, as stated in the 2009 National Budget is far from realization, is attempting through its abrupt withdrawal from the negotiations and to blame the workers’ strike actions for the poor performance of the industry again, this year.
President of GAWU, Komal Chand, said that the decision by GuySuCo to withdraw from the negotiations is influenced by interior motives.
It appears as if both GuySuCo and GAWU are looking to each other to make the first move in order to rectify the situation.
This was evident, since GAWU is claiming that workers will not return to work unless GuySuCo resumes the negotiation.
However, GuySuCo, at a press conference, yesterday, at the NCN studios, are claiming that they will not resume the negotiations unless the workers return to work.
“We want an assurance that GuySuCo will talk to the union. They are reacting to them… You withdraw, you are behaving like a supremacist and the workers reacted. No talks, no work,” GAWU president said.
Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo, Errol Hanoman, told the media that the sugar corporation refuses to work under pressure, as is dictated in the standard Industrial Relations practices.
At the recently suspended round of negotiations, GuySuCo did offer a wage increase, but this apparently was not to the satisfaction of the workers. According to Chairman of the Board of Directors for GuySuCo, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, the escalation of the strike can bring injury to the wages talk.
Dr. Gopaul told the media that GuySuCo cannot afford to pay workers at all the estates if they are not working, due to the strike action.
“We will not keep workers at work to do nothing…We can’t afford to pay and if there is continuation of the strike, then those workers who are willing to work will have to go home. It is straight and hard facts as that. We do not have the money to pay people to sit down and not produce.
“So those workers, though they are committed to the industry and would want to work, would have to understand that is the harsh reality,” Dr. Gopaul said.
Meanwhile, as it relates to the future of the sugar workers at the Diamond Estate, it was explained that given the financial situation that confronts GuySuCo, all estates would have been closed and workers would have become redundant, but this will not happen in Guyana, the GuySuCo chairman said.
Some of the Diamond workers were asking to be ‘paid off’ or compensated since they did not approve the idea of being relocated to another estate.
However, Dr. Gopaul made it clear that the workers at Diamond cannot be ‘paid off,’ since the sugar company is following procedures.
He explained that in industrial relations, there is a procedure, as in a collective agreement. The workers can only be ‘paid off’ if their job becomes redundant and if they are proven to be medically unfit. “Other than that, they work until retirement and if they choose to leave the employment before that, then they leave at their own free will.”
Dr. Gopaul said that from time to time, GuySuCo would require skills to be moved from one estate to another in order to develop the industry.
He explained that in the case of Diamond, the sugar company had called a meeting with the unions and had a committee working towards a satisfactory conclusion to the matter. “There seems to be some misunderstanding with respect to the matter, but workers will be moved from location to location…we will avoid moving in large scale manner until we are able to discuss and let the union and workers appreciate what we are trying to do.” The movement has to do with seeking to develop the industry and to meet the harvesting as well as land preparation needs of the East Demerara Estates.
“We are not asking them to make additional sacrifices…we are providing transportation, we are paying whenever there are delay in earnings and we are paying them the waiting time for them to get to the fields and so they are adequately compensated…they are not going to suffer any loss.”
Dr. Gopaul appealed to the union and workers for some amount of normalcy to prevail.
“Let us go back to the bargaining table and while we talk wages, let us see what we can do to improve the industry.”