East Demerara cane harvesters down tools over new system
-claim 126 punts of cane dumped recently
Pull quote: “Dem big boys gat dem own house ah rent out, while dem ah live in GuySuCo house. We deh in dis sun and rain whole day fuh mek lil money and dem want tek it away.”
While the industrial action is abating in several GuySuCo estates, sugarcane harvesters on the East Coast of Demerara have downed tools in protest over the new system of task share/task cut, which they claimed will drastically diminish their earnings.
Close to 1,000 cane cutters from six gangs- two from La Bonne Intention (LBI) and four from Enmore- are demanding that the management of the state-owned sugar company revert to the previously used system that was employed for cane harvesting.
The workers are contending that previously, they were paid for whatever cane they cut but now they have to cut 10 rows of cane before the task is considered completed and paid for.
They are arguing that under the new system it is difficult for them to complete the task in a day, and therefore, they must work for two days before they can get one day’s pay.
Winston Persaud of the Enmore Eight (A) gang told the media that the new system has been in place for the past two weeks and the harvesters are now beginning to feel the squeeze.
“Before, when you cut… that you get pay for; now them change it round, that what you cut today and what lef back, you complete all and then you get one day pay. It can’t wuk out,” Persaud explained.
The workers claimed that there were discussions on this issue between the union, GAWU, and management on Friday, last and they were expecting a positive outcome.
However, on Sunday they were told that management’s position had not changed hence the industrial action yesterday.
Sukhram Persaud, another worker, told the media that the new system was never a part of their employment agreement.
“Anything in the agreement, leh dem bring it in black and white and show we,” the worker said, adding that their union is aware of the action they are taking.
He also spoke about the arbitrary increase in the weight of cane the sugar company is demanding in each punt.
“De punt dem, after two weeks crop start you can’t load more than two and three ton inside, because it gat stuff inside, mud and slush and stinking water wha we gat fuh go in,” Persaud explained.
According to the cane cutters, the workforce in the sugar industry is rapidly dwindling, as a result of the lowly slave-like wages and conditions.
“Before a canecutter could’a build a fence when he get pay, now he can’t even repair de fence,” said one of the striking workers.
They blame the management of GuySuCo for treating them with scant regards when the sugar company’s top brass is reaping all the benefits of an ailing industry.
“Dem big boys gat dem own house ah rent out, while dem ah live in GuySuCo house. We deh in dis sun and rain whole day fuh mek lil money and dem want tek it away,” another gang leader stated.
The workers suggested that the GuySuCo top brass as well as the new Minister of Agriculture, Dr, Leslie Ramsammy, spend a day in the canefields to get a feel of what they have to go through.
“They talking about cost cutting…but you must start cut cost from de top…all dem who live in de free house and deh in dem shine vehicle, you must cut dem cost. You know, when you ah bruk wan house, you don’t bruk from de bottom, you start from de top, de zinc sheet and come down. Dis is not 1948,” an angry canecutter said.
The workers also revealed that 126 punts of cane were recently dumped. They said that this will adversely affect their Annual Production Incentive (API) and they are demanding an explanation.
“Somebody will have to pay the consequences for that because it will be we crop. That wha dey throw away could mek some additional sugar today …they (GuySuCo) would a been able fuh pay we,” a worker explained.
Gerhard Ramsaroop and Freddie Kissoon of the Alliance For Change visited the striking workers and learnt that in addition to the main issue, there were other concerns that are plaguing the welfare of the cane harvesters.
The AFC members, in a statement released yesterday afternoon, said that the workers pointed out that cane was planted far in the backdam costing some G$133M, but because no canals were dug and the soil being too soft for tractors and trailers, the cane had to be left uncut.
“They also pointed out to suspicious large thefts occurring, for example one hundred and twenty-eight heavy-duty tyres and five hundred twenty foot drainage tubes were lost at LBI. It is the workers feeling that given there wasn’t a sufficient tightening of security that these could be inside jobs. They also believe that there is corruption between contractors of machinery and those who hire them. They feel that not enough is being done to cut on these types of costs and all the pressure is brought to bear on them,” the AFC said.
The AFC made it clear to the workers that it was not there to replace the union, but to highlight the cause of the workers in the hope of a speedy resolution. The AFC emphasised that the sugar industry is in trouble and that Guyana cannot afford for it to collapse. It is vital not just for sugar production, but also to the energy sector.
Meanwhile, last ditch efforts to resolve the matter have so far failed.
Kaieteur news understands that the two sides met with officials of the Ministry of Labour and up to late last night, they could not reach an amicable solution.
“Management is holding fast to its position,” a source told this newspaper.
The workers are maintaining that their strike action will continue if the new system is not withdrawn.