– asks if “turn-around plan” is being turned around
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has lashed out at the Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud over his comments on the sugar industry.
Persaud on Tuesday blamed worker absenteeism and strikes for leaving almost 500,000 tonnes of sugar cane uncut in the fields. The Minister said these will have to be harvested in the first crop of the New Year, but that the sugar yield would be reduced.
It was pointed out that if all the cane available for harvesting had reached the factories, including those left uncut, the industry would have realised production of 274,000 tonnes.
But yesterday, GAWU went on the defensive, saying that even if “two major strikes” of eight days were responsible for any shortfall, the highest weekly production recording during the second crop was 9,726 tonnes sugar on week ending October 15, 2010 – “a fine sunny week for cane harvesting.”
“Surely, the Honourable Minister should verify his statistics, his ‘projection’ or speculation with his Guysuco Managers and, perhaps, his Board of Directors,” GAWU declared.
According to the Union, the Corporation, unlike in the past years, when its projections were found to be reliable, is now unable to determine even with 5% margin of error, the size of its crops.
In 2005, GAWU said the industry targeted a production of 290,000 tonnes, but produced 246,089 tonnes; in 2006, the target was 279,000 tonnes and 259,548 tonnes was produced. Further, in 2007, the target was 280,000 tonnes, but 266,482 tonnes was produced; in 2008, the target was 280,000 tonnes but production stood at 226,267 tonnes. For 2009, the target was 280,000 tonnes, and 223,735 tonnes was produced.
GAWU said that the Minister’s reference to only one per cent of workers turning out on Monday and eight per cent on Tuesday is reflective of an historical and traditional phenomenon in the industry.
“Once Christmas week arrives, sugar workers, like all other workers look forward to some rest and recreation, for some days before the commencement of the first crop in the New Year, taking into account their back-breaking work during the year,” GAWU stated.
“Surely the good Minister of Agriculture, the hierarchy of the Corporation and nearly all the Directors were able to enjoy Christmas with their own families.”
On the Minister’s reference to the future, GAWU said the Union and the workers will be happy to hear Guysuco’s concept of a “new industry” and hoped that there will be full consultations with the workers before it is finalized.
Part of the new GuySuCo, the Minister said, was moving towards mechanisation and semi-mechanisation of cane.
The Union said this would naturally develop, as adequate rates of pay for the laborious work might not be forthcoming, and new workers would avoid employment in the industry.
“However, the heavy capitalisation and the climatic conditions will certainly indicate the extent of the mechanization process which would have been gradual and to a point where adequate labourers with an acceptable pay will complement the machines,” GAWU retorted.
According to GAWU, the Minister’s “new industry” remarks are the first indications of some alternative strategies not included in the “much-heralded” turn-around plan.
“Is the Turn-Around being Turned-Around? It is hoped that the two Sugar Unions would be consulted and be involved fully in the Corporation’s rescue strategies,” GAWU noted.
“Plans for even a new industry won’t work without the men and women; in short, those hard pressed workers and their representatives.”
GAWU said a union has to be responsibly “stubborn” in its pursuit of its members’ welfare if it is to remain dignified.
“Any employer and Government should appreciate this. Reasonable rates of pay influence workers’ morale and performance and attendance at work,” GAWU stated.
Persaud’s statement that the government’s desire “is to have a very healthy and productive relationship between workers and management” was welcomed by GAWU, which expressed that this has been absent for too long.
“The Union craves for this, as it is necessary for the industry to produce sugar at its full capacity, and wants an end to the Management’s confrontational approach to the Union.”
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