A pay hike row between the country’s sugar company and workers’ union has spilled over to Government with President Bharrat Jagdeo saying yesterday that de-recognition of the sugar union will not happen under his term.
Government officials yesterday also expressed disappointment over the alleged threat which they downplayed and said could have been worded better.
On Friday, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) expressed “extreme outrage” at a letter from GuySuCo dated Thursday which informed the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), that the Corporation is “considering to terminate the “Recognition and the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes” agreement dated February 27, 1976. The agreement currently exists between the Union and GuySuCo.
Yesterday, a government statement quoted the President as declaring that GAWU will never be derecognised by GuySuCo under his government.
“President Bharrat Jagdeo, in an invited comment last evening (Friday) upon his return to Guyana from the MERCOSUR summit in Brazil, has made it clear that there will be no de-recognition of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) under his government.”
According to the President, while he understands the frustration of GuySuCo’s Board of Director and management, the issue of de-recognition will not be entertained by his government.
Jagdeo refused to elaborate on the ongoing dispute between GAWU and GuySuCo that is hampering sugar production for 2010.
“He, however, said that the matter will be discussed at an internal meeting today (yesterday) and that he will be elaborating on the matter, shortly.”
But GuySuCo said that it has already taken a decision to review its relationship with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).
That decision is based purely on the expectations of the union as outlined in the ‘Recognition and the Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes’ agreement.
“The Corporation has on numerous occasions had cause to remind the Union both through public and personal communication that a number of its strike actions were in contravention to their labour agreement, including their most recent one-week industry wide strike.
“The letter to the union sought to highlight this constant violation and more so, this increasing trend at such a crucial juncture of the industry. No responsible Corporation would allow a union representing the majority of its workforce to continue such actions with impunity at the expense of the future viability of the sugar industry.
“GAWU’s abrasive focus on the aspect of the Corporation’s decision to review their agreement, rather than honestly assess the serious concerns which led to such a decision is a clear indication of the headstrong approach by the union to achieve its means irrespective of the consequences.
Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, who was part of the President‘s delegation to Brazil and was away when the letter was issued by GuySuCo, also echoed the President that de-recognition is not and will never be contemplated.
The Minister said that he is awaiting a full report on the status of negotiations between GAWU and GuySuCo from the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Dr. Nanda Gopaul.
Yesterday, a senior government official who asked not to be named said maybe the GuySuCo letter could have been worded better and the administration was “disappointed” by the fallout.
On Friday, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), an union umbrella body, said that the letter is an outrageous threat to GAWU, “which battled for recognition upon the blood, sweat and tears and death of their members for almost 30 years… under autocratic regimes…”
FITUG also said that it reeks of “Massa-day” disrespect for, not merely GAWU, but for the entire working-class labour movement of Guyana.
FITUG also drew reference to what it believed is a similar situation more than a year ago, when the foreign-owned Russian bauxite conglomerate, RUSAL, threatened to de-recognise the Guyana Bauxite and General Workers Union (GB&GWU). This was subsequently “unilaterally” done. The body had then also “swiftly denounced that action as vehemently anti-working class and in contradiction to laid-down procedures and Guyana’s industrial employer-worker culture.”
GuySuCo has been going through a dismal year with production set for the lowest in two decades.
This has been blamed on low workers’ turnout and problems at the new Skeldon factory. It also comes at a time when the industry has been besieged by numerous strikes and ironically when for the first time in five years, there are canes on the ground but no workers to harvest them.
Recently, GAWU called a one-week strike to protest the pace of wage negotiations. Recently also, GuySuCo said it could not afford to pay any raise this year and warned of a tight financial situation.
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