By Leonard Gildarie
Sugar workers, fighting for an early payment of their recently approved wage increase, yesterday picketed four Berbice estates, with workers downing tools and striking at Rose Hall.
According to President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), Komal Chand, the management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has since called for a meeting to discuss the Annual Production Incentive (API) and this will happen tomorrow.
The API bonus, a feature for sugar workers for years now, is facing the possibility of not being paid this year as GuySuCo says that it just cannot afford it.
The union official, speaking to Kaieteur News from Berbice, where GAWU was locked in talks throughout yesterday on the situation, noted that the picketing will continue as “long as it takes” for the Corporation to understand that workers just cannot continue to live in the current conditions.
While only the Rose Hall estate is grinding at the moment, it would not stop workers from their picketing exercises, Chand said. Workers were very vocal yesterday calling on GuySuCo to look at the “super salaries of some of its management officials while workers were being “shafted”.
With the Corporation unable to get more financing from local banks to bridge its problems on a short term, it’s unclear how it will find an extra $450M to pay workers when recently, salaries were paid in the following week after a sugar boat was delayed.
On Monday, several sugar workers also picketed the estate offices of the GuySuCo across the country, demanding that they be paid their recently announced salary increase before Christmas.
A number of factory maintenance workers at Enmore and LBI, East Coast Demerara, joined with workers from Diamond, to demonstrate and to wave placards.
On Monday, Chand warned that the picketing exercise may very well continue and “develop” into something bigger. While many of the estates are closed, Rose Hall and Skeldon are winding down now.
Over the weekend, news that GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer, Errol Hanoman, was earning over $2.5M monthly in salary and perks, at a time when their corporation says it is cash-strapped, immediately evoked sharp criticisms, with the Alliance For Change (AFC) describing it as outrageous.
In an invited comment to this newspaper Sunday, AFC’s Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, said that it “is outrageous in the context of GuySuCo which is in a pathetic financial situation. This disparity as to what the bosses get and what ordinary sugar workers get is most extreme”.
But according to Ramjattan, the $2.5 million salary which the CEO, Errol Hanoman, collects on a monthly basis was approved by some members on GuySuCo’s board.
The AFC chairman also called for the board to resign, given its hapless performance. According to Ramjattan, the performance of the directors is also shameful. “Workers must unite and break themselves out of the PPP government’s shackles.”
Late last week, GuySuCo announced that workers will be getting their new rates of pay effective from January 1, 2010.
The Corporation, in a strongly worded statement Friday, also slammed GAWU for its attempts “to spread misinformation to our workforce and the general public”, following a picketing exercise by the Union Thursday in front of the offices of the Ministry of Finance.
“We are at a loss as to how the Union could be so irresponsible with the sensitivities of its members at such a critical turning point of the Industry.
On Tuesday last week, an Arbitration Tribunal, ordered by government, completed its month-long work awarding a three per cent raise in the sugar workers’ pay.
By law, GAWU is bound to accept the award of the Arbitration Tribunal, despite the three per cent being way below the 10 per cent the union had been hoping for.
GuySuCo has said that workers will be paid the new rates from January 1, 2010, while the Corporation is working diligently to ensure their retroactive payment is honoured as soon as possible, notwithstanding the ruling of the Tribunal which indicated end of March as the latest date for payment.
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