By Leonard Gildarie
Tensions continued to escalate in the sugar industry yesterday over failed negotiations of a year-end bonus, and the workers’ union says that it has since signaled its intentions to go to arbitration.
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) on Wednesday wrote the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) requesting arbitration on the payment of the Annual Production Incentive (API).
In a letter addressed to Francis Carryl, Head of Industrial Relations, GuySuCo, GAWU also asked for a meeting to discuss the terms of reference and composition of the Arbitration Panel.
The letter has been copied to the Chief Labour Officer, Yoganand Persaud.
On Wednesday, GuySuCo threatened to sanction several workers of the Wales and Albion estates who went on strike to protest the poor condition of an access road at Albion and the payment of the API which was under negotiation.
According to the corporation, 24 mechanical tillage workers at the Wales location staged a picketing exercise which eventually turned into strike action. At Albion, 163 workers had also taken industrial action.
GuySuCo, in a strongly worded letter on Wednesday to Seepaul Narine, General Secretary of GAWU, expressed its serious dissatisfaction “over the indiscipline and counterproductive behavior of some members of your union’s bargaining unit.”
API talks had stalled last week and a meeting earlier this week with the negotiating teams from the union and the Corporation had seen workers being told of GuySuCo’s current offer.
One of the offers made by GuySuCo was four days’ pay.
The letter, which was leaked, was written by Head of the corporation’s Industrial Relations, Francis Carryl. It stated that GuySuCo was unaware that the workers or the union had given the estates the requisite notice prior to proceeding on strike, as provided for in the relevant Collective Labour Agreement (CLA).
“Therefore, we have concluded that the strike action was taken in contravention of the said CLA and in violation of prudent industrial relations principles and practices.
Our displeasure with this indiscipline and aggressive behavior by your members who seem intent on creating disharmony and discord within the workplace cannot and will not be condoned,” GuySuCo warned.
The corporation pointed out that by proceeding on strike, in violation of the extant CLA, the workers have left themselves open to serious disciplinary action.
“Indeed, the Corporation reserves the right to impose appropriate sanctions on the indisciplined workers and or your union, and may very well do so. You will recall that by letter dated January 14, 2010 we registered our disgust with the reprehensible behavior of some of your members who appear to be determined to inflict injury to the Corporation and the nation.”
GuySuCo stressed that it did not need to remind GAWU that the future of the industry is at the ‘crossroads’ and it will no longer condone any act which is inimical to the collective interest.
“In these circumstances we hereby call on you to cause the strike at Wales and Albion to be terminated forthwith, and at the same time ensure that no further such action is initiated.”
Yesterday, Narine in response to GuySuCo’s letter of possible sanctions against workers, said the correspondence has clearly indicated the “dictatorial” attitude of the Corporation and its management.
The union official denied that Wales workers were on strike, since there is no production ongoing at this time at the estate.
“GuySuCo is saying that workers protesting the conditions of the access road has nothing to do with them. There were many examples in the past when workers protested for different things. These included issues of the Guyana National Service and calling for free and fair elections.”
Narine said he was unsure, with no production ongoing, how GuySuCo would be able to justify any arguments that strikes at this time would cause targets to fall.
“They could fool the people. But GAWU will be asking that the Arbitration Panel comprise someone who is not a government worker to chair it.”
The official explained that GuySuCo made an offer of four days’ pay for the API then reduced this to three and half days pay.
“Clearly this is an act of provocation to get workers to strike. From 1992 to 2008, workers were getting API of an average of 17 days pay. We were proposing eight days taking into consideration GuySuCo is saying they are at the crossroads.”
Meanwhile, GuySuCo wrote the union on Wednesday requesting a meeting for today at LBI to “discuss with the Board and Management of the Corporation, matters of mutual interests, inclusive of unwarranted industrial action.”
NAACIE, another union representing some of the Corporation’s workers, has also been asked to attend the meeting. Yesterday, GuySuCo announced that it will be hosting a series of workers’ meetings on the future of the sugar industry.
“This initiative is in keeping with our commitment to share relevant information on the state of the industry, update on the implementation of the Turn-Around Plan and outline the course ahead for the industry and the role of all stakeholders,” GuySuCo said. The meetings will be held at all of GuySuCo’s estates and will include participation from government ministers, Board Members and representatives of trade unions, among others.
Last year, GuySuCo struggled as it battled strike actions and low production.
A pay increase for workers was sent to arbitration and three per cent was awarded by a tribunal.
The Corporation, in the midst of a crippling price cut from Europe, its biggest customer, was forced to borrow from a banking consortium, and reschedule some of its debts to meet the $300M plus increase for workers.
With a crop looming, officials last year said that it could ill-afford strike action this year as the Corporation attempts to implement a turnaround plan to rescue an industry facing severe challenges.
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