– 1.3M tonnes still to cut, rain is biggest worry
By Leonard Gildarie
Amidst increasing scrutiny of the country’s ailing sugar industry, management yesterday warned that dismal workers’ attendance could see a further reduction of the annual targets, with at least two Demerara factories recording dismal performances for the current crop.
Yesterday, management and members of the Board of Directors of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) met with the unions in an attempt to bolster support and increase production.
Across the country, workers’ attendance has dropped to a worrying low of 57% with LBI and Enmore only able to grind a measly 66 and 90 hours per week respectively. This is highly alarming compared to Rose Hall and Blairmont, two Berbice estates, which achieved the targeted 130 hours per week.
Yesterday, during the meeting at LBI Training Building, GuySuCo’s Chairman, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, made it clear that time is running out with 1.3M tonnes of cane still to be harvested for this crop.
According to GuySuCo, in a statement on the critical meeting, which is being viewed as a last-ditch attempt to pull the industry from the doldrums, if the current low turnout does not improve and there are early December/January rains, then there is the likelihood of canes being carried over to the first crop next year, “which under any circumstance is most undesirable”.
Already, GuySuCo has revised this year’s sugar target from 280,000 tonnes to 264,000 but even this is facing challenges of being met.
Workers’ attendance has been a thorn in the side of GuySuCo for some time now with many departing, either out of the country or turning to more permanent jobs. The Corporation has even resorted to television ads asking for cane harvesters, but with little results.
To compound matters, with GuySuCo cash-strapped and facing a crippling 36% slash in sugar prices from its biggest customer in Europe, industrial relations have fallen to new lows with a record number of strikes within the last few years.
Along with the Chairman, were GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer, Paul Bhim, his Deputy, Raj Singh and Board member, J.B. Raghurai. Also at the meeting were sugar workers’ representatives of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), including President, Komal Chand and General Secretary, Seepaul Narine. There were also representatives of the NAACIE.
According to GuySuCo, the meeting was summoned by the Chairman to meet with representatives from both unions to encourage the “harvesters to improve on their attendance, which over the current crop so far is averaging about 57%. The Chairman took the opportunity to relate to the reps the actual attendance of harvesters on each estate for the first crop and second crop so far this year, and the effects the low attendance has on production.”
According to Bhim, as at the week ending October 8th, approximately 1.3M tonnes of canes remained to be harvested and “if the existing good weather prevails and ably supported by better attendance and productivity, then the target of 264,000 could be easily achieved”.
GAWU President Komal Chand, in his submission, noted that there should be an early settlement of wages’ negotiations to prevent industrial conflict from affecting the harvesting of the remaining canes. The union official also urged that any wage agreement this year should not be settled by arbitration tribunal.
Meanwhile, workers’ union representatives raised concerns over what they considered a high income tax regime, “prolonged delay in accessing wages in the commercial banks, poor coordination and use of the workers’ councils, acute shortage of punts at Blairmont and Enmore, shortage of critical spares for the factory and autocratic behaviour of some senior managers”.
Gopaul, according to the GuySuCo release, assured that all administrative irritants will be eliminated, and that “it should be the responsibility of all to ensure that there is war on wastage and corruption. He further assured that workers’ councils, with immediate effect, will be properly coordinated and their deliberations will be meaningful to the management of the estates.”
The official, echoing a growing complaint of attitudes of some managers, urged for more respect for workers and warned that anyone found acting contrary to GuySuCo’s policies will be dealt with.
“He expressed strong concerns on the poor performance at LBI and EHP, and urged workers and management on these estates to work assiduously to ensure that sufficient canes are available to operate these factories for 130 hours per week.”
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