…disputes Skeldon factory is only fault to sugar problems
By Leonard Gildarie
Government has warned of a labour shortage, in the coming years, as several national projects come on stream. As a matter of fact, President Bharrat Jagdeo says, it is not unlikely a scenario playing out where skilled labour may have to be imported. He also challenged women to take a more active role in labour force.
Jagdeo made the statements at the Umana Yana, Kingston, during the opening session of the 51st Delegates (1st Triennial) Conference of the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).
The union’s members are mainly from the sugar industry, power sector and Bosai Mining at Linden. Also attending yesterday’s event were several other union leaders, diplomats and executives.
According to the President, with significant growth activities expected in the eco-tourism, oil and gas, agricultural and IT sectors in the coming years, there will be an urgent need to “retrain” workers.
With a recent uproar by some unions and others over a proposal to hire overseas Maths and Science teachers to bridge a shortfall, Jagdeo urged for trade unions to understand the situation and the need to have a “proper perspective”.
Perhaps the most challenging of issues facing workers now is that of inflation, he said, adding that the PPP/C administration has, over the past 19 years, managed to bring it down to single-digit levels.
According to the Head of State, Guyana now has its highest ever foreign reserves, touching US$1B, and its citizens have houselots as low as $90,000 and interest rates as low as 5-6% on mortgages, down from the 30% back in the 1990s.
He noted that this comes at a time when several European countries are facing severe financial problems, but he also cautioned that Guyana would not remain immune because current measures to tackle the problems will have its effects in years to come.
The President also disputed statements by Seepaul Narine, General Secretary of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), who told delegates that the problems of GuySuCo are mainly to be blamed on those of the new Skeldon sugar factory, which was built and commissioned only a few years ago to the tune of close to US$200M, one of the largest single investments to date.
The President asserted that problems were more than that. He pointed out that the reasons include the crippling 36% price cut by Europe, Guyana’s biggest sugar customer. This cut, he said, translated to almost $9B in lost revenues annually for the country and GuySuCo.
Weather and low staff turnout (which is less than half of the required number) are also factors plaguing the industry.
Referring to the promise of Brigadier (retd) David Granger, Presidential Candidate of the People’s National Congress Reform, to privatise the sugar industry, Jagdeo warned that no company could sustain GuySuCo, and most likely would shut down operations within a year, causing severe job losses. Government’s assistance, through loans and other means, have kept it alive, he insisted.
Jagdeo said that it is the same case for GPL, with one attempt to privatise failing a few years ago.
Regarding new sectors that will put more live into the economy, the Head of State explained that agencies like the regulatory body, National Frequency and Management Unit, will have greater roles to play, with new IT opportunities leading to increased revenues from fees and other means. It is against this background, he emphasised, that trade unions will have to become unified.
Jagdeo also took on the Guyana Trades Union Congress, noting that some unions have failed their members, in some cases not even submitting their financial statements as required.
He cited the Critchlow Labour College as an example where government was providing annual assistance, to the tune of $40M, but the funding was used inappropriately – to even pay staffers of some of the officials.
Government is willing to rethink its stance and work with any union if that union is willing, Jagdeo stressed.
Former NAACIE leader, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, told the gathering that the union has played a key role in fighting for democracy in Guyana. These include a 135 strike in the 1970s.
The union was also instrumental in establishing the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG), an umbrella body.
NAACIE in its fight had helped to eradicate a practice to send home pregnant female workers and implement mandatory meal allowance and holidays with pay.
The conference, which ends tomorrow, is expected to see delegates deciding on a way forward for the union and the election of office bearers.
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