GuySuCo gets another $1B from govt.
The sugar industry, struggling to regain its footing after last year recording one of its worst performances in two decades, is to receive a $1B cash injection from government.
During an early morning visit yesterday to the Enmore Estate, East Coast Demerara, geared to bolster confidence in workers, Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, and a team from the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), also announced that a special unit has been set up to deal specifically with resolving issues related to National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions and benefits.
The visit is one of a number planned across the country by the Ministry and GuySuCo to further stabilize an industry uneasy with the pace of wages and salary negotiations.
NIS benefits had been a sore point for workers who claimed over time that years of contributions to the state-run scheme had just disappeared. The unit will take note of workers’ complaints and liaise directly with NIS.
Yesterday, Persaud, quelling workers’ demands for an urgent resolution to the pay issue which failed last year after GuySuCo indicated that it had no money, pointed out that negotiations between the Corporation and the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) have started early, with another meeting set for today.
Already, the issue over the outstanding Annual Production Incentive (API), which was not paid last year, has been sent to the Ministry of Labour in an effort to reach an agreeable position.
With an ambitious 300,000 tonnes of sugar targeted for 2011, Enmore alone has around 25,000 tonnes. Yesterday, workers were unsure if the 12,000 tonnes set for this crop will be met, as attendance was one of the main problems last year.
According to Persaud yesterday, this year’s first crop is looking good, with attendance averaging a heartening 72%. Last year, less than half of the harvesters turned up for duty, opting to work elsewhere. It is a growing problem facing an industry which five years ago faced a shortage of sugar cane and little work for harvesters.
Last year, the situation changed dramatically with GuySuCo announcing that more than 400,000 tonnes of cane had to be carried over to this year’s first crop because there were no workers.
Also at the meeting with workers yesterday were GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Paul Bhim, and his deputy, Raj Singh, along with senior officials of the Ministry.
The Minister urged that a level head be maintained this year between both the union and GuySuCo, so that a 5% one-off payment made by government during Christmas could become a permanent part of their remuneration. Negotiations, he assured, will continue for increases for this year.
According to Persaud, while many have called for a closure of the industry, government will not be heeding these calls.
As a matter of fact, last year, government plugged $2B into the industry to help GuySuCo pay-off debts. Part of the money also helped to pay workers a one-off 5% in December, which amounted to almost $750M.
Regarding the critical importance of sugar to Guyana, Persaud pointed to Belize which to bail out its industry approved over US$6M in a loan. This government, however, did not go in this direction, instead injecting significant amounts of money to support the sector.
Questioned whether a number of Guyanese sugar workers who would be laid off as Barbados moves to introduce cost-cutting measures, the official said that he has called for a GuySuCo meeting to find out what could be done.
This year, a sugar packaging facility at Enmore is expected to be commissioned to the tune of US$12M. That facility and the Enmore factory, which is slated to be modified, were inspected yesterday.
With more investments this year targeting the acquisition of new technology, including the Bell Loaders, which were intended to reduce the dependence on harvesters actually lifting the canes, the officials were convinced that the targeted 300,000 tonnes could be met, once all hands are on deck.
On top of that, sugar prices have risen about 40% over 2010 levels with cane yields said to be excellent, two very heartening signs, the officials said.
Last year, sugar production fell to 220,000 tonnes with GuySuCo claiming debts to the tune of $7B. (Leonard Gildarie)