Union says change of Booker Tate management overdue
The new Skeldon Sugar factory, supposedly Guyana’s boon to rescue the faltering fortunes of the industry, is due to begin commercial operations shortly, but President Bharrat Jagdeo is arguing that strikes and worker absenteeism have made the industry’s prospects bitter.
However, the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU), which represents workers across the country’s seven sugar estates, would like to see the management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) get its act together.
Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud told Kaieteur News yesterday that, based on the latest report supplied by the Chairman of the Corporation, Dr Nanda Kishore Gopaul, “progress is being made according to plan” to start commercial operations. However, he declined to give a date.
One member of the Board said that the Board had set the beginning of the second crop to start commercial operations.
The Minister and Chairman will later this week make an on-the-spot assessment of the operations at Skeldon with the media present.
GAWU president Komal Chand said that according to his information grinding at the old Skeldon factory has stopped with tests of the new factory seeing positive results. The test conducted on Monday proved successful, and one board member told Kaieteur News that the factory is now undergoing tests for longer runs – 72 hours.
Responding to criticisms by President Jagdeo that worker absenteeism and strikes are a major problem facing the industry, Chand said the Union recognises the challenges the industry faces, but workers cannot go to work if they are not sure of what work they will get.
“Strike, strike and more strike for more while they continue to produce less,” Jagdeo charged last Sunday when he addressed a primarily Berbice audience at the commemoration of the death anniversary of President Cheddi Jagan at Babu John.
GAWU has previously argued that, while changing weather patterns, industrial action and worker-absenteeism are the reasons given repeatedly for declining production, the problems with workers are not new, and that against similar situations the industry produced an average of 320,000 tonnes per annum between 2002 and 2004.
Production fell to 257,000 the following three years.
GAWU has argued that it was natural that a decline in field production would lead to a drop in the financial fortunes of the industry. According to the Union there was simply not enough cane in the fields to produce 260,000 tonnes of sugar for last year.
In addition, he said the Booker Tate management of the industry is responsible for some of the problems the industry faces, including poor crop husbandry. He said that proper husbandry was responsible for the turnaround of sugar in the early 1990’s, and therefore if workers are assured of work and a solid day’s pay they will go to work.
According to GAWU, suitable growing canes do not dominate the fields, and poor husbandry results in sparseness of growing canes, poor cane stalks, etc., as is evident on the East Demerara estates and some others
The government has commissioned a review of the sugar industry for the period 1997-2008 in light of falling production.
To address the questions about the management of GuySuCo, a new Chief Executive Officer was named, along with a change in the management structure of the entity early this year. A new board was also named.
GuySuCo has been managed by Booker Tate since the early 1990s, and the management contract expires at the end of this month.
Chand said that the change in management of the industry is long overdue. The government has said that it will retain specialists from outside of the country to meet specific needs, even filling those needs through Booker Tate.
GAWU does not favour specialists from Europe, and Chand is suggesting that experts could be sought from Cuba or Brazil.
The review of the operations of the industry is to take into consideration the suitability and efficacy of land preparation in light of known and forecasted weather patterns.
The Skeldon factory was constructed at a cost of S$181M and has been trumped up by the government as being the factory that will ensure the sustainability of the industry, thus maintaining the livelihood of the thousands of Guyanese who work in the industry.
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