Mar 11, 2012 News
Sugar workers have said that the Enmore Packaging Plant, built at a cost of
some US$12.5M, still does not function properly.
For example, sugar is supposed to be conveyed directly to the packaging plant from the factory, but when it meets the screw worm at the plant, the sugar is crushed to a powder-like substance. The sugar has to be transported via forklifts, leading to additional costs.
“This is a next white elephant; nothing ain’t doing over there and we getting victimize,” one worker stated.
The worker explained that although the factory is grinding seven days a week, the workers at the packaging plant are only getting five working days a week.
This, they said, is unfair since their take home pay per week ends up being grossly inadequate. Some workers showed their weekly pay slips which indicated that they were earning a little under $5000.
“All ah we is family men and we gat things to look after,” the packaging plant worker stated.
The role of the sugar worker is critical to the viability of Guyana’s largest industry; but for now they are beginning to believe that they are no longer needed.
Many are of the view that the company has over extended itself on projects that have proven to be failures.
The Skeldon Factory immediately comes to mind. But recently the Enmore Packaging Plant has been added to that list.
The plight of the sugar workers, especially those on East Coast Demerara, was further amplified as they again took industrial action sending strong signals to management of the Guyana Sugar Corporation that enough is enough.
On Friday, for the second time in a week, the workers at the Enmore Estate downed tools and protested what they called exploitation and uncaring treatment by the management of the sugar company.
On Thursday, cane cutters took strike action over their NIS arrangement. On Friday, factory workers and employees from the Enmore packaging plant added to the woes of the company, picketing just outside the Enmore Estate.
Their main issue was the non-payment of overtime to those who worked last Saturday and Sunday.
This was not the first time that the issue had been highlighted.
The workers explained that this situation occurred once before during the last crop last year, and after their union (GAWU) intervened, the issue was resolved for the balance of the crop.
However, the promise to pay the workers the overtime lost was never fulfilled.
When workers collected their wages last Friday and found that the situation had not been resolved as was promised, they immediately went on strike.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) in response to the strike, has agreed to pay the workers the overtime.
However, the sugar corporation is maintaining that the new arrangement whereby workers must complete 40 hours of work before they are entitled to any overtime on Saturdays and Sundays, will remain in place.
This arrangement, however, has not found favour with the workers who are further aggrieved by what they claimed is management’s deliberate practice of denying them ‘days’ during the week so that they will not make their 40 hours, and therefore, have to work over the weekend for normal pay.
GuySuCo has embarked on massive cost cutting measures which have been severely criticised for the way it is being implemented.
The ordinary sugar workers who have been the backbone of the industry again pointed to management for the troubles GUYSUCO finds itself in today.
The workers are also pointing fingers at the plant’s manager, who they say is a relative of President Ramotar and who earns some $750,000 per month.
“Dey shut down LBI and bring we over to Enmore fuh punish we more. Five days a week wuk could mind family?” they asked.
Once again members of the Alliance for Change travelled to Enmore to show their solidarity with the workers.
AFC’s Gerhard Ramsaroop told the workers his party had noted that the plant was controversial from the inception, with experts pointing to larger plants being built for less in other parts of the world. In addition, shortly after it was commissioned in May 2011, there was an explosion which resulted in the death of Jainarine Singh, whose widow was then given the royal run-around by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).
He emphasised that the industry is in deep trouble and therefore, cost cutting measures are inevitable. “However, rather than have a bottom up approach, which will have severe social implications, the cuts must start at the top.”
Ramsaroop pointed to the extravagant Bharrat Jagdeo pension package (estimated at $3M per month), and the continued practice at the Office President of appointing highly paid advisors, like Gail Teixeira and Odinga Lumumba, who respectively earn some $900,000 and $700,000 per month.
The workers expressed a strong desire for a new union and were vociferously demanding the AFC to take up the mantle.
But in response, however, Ramsaroop made it clear that the AFC was not there to replace GAWU, but to highlight their issues with the aim of timely resolutions.
Ramsaroop said that AFC recognises the industry as vital not just as a major employer and foreign exchange earner, but also for the enormous contribution it can make to the energy sector through bagasse and ethanol, and therefore, it must not be allowed to collapse.
The AFC member urged the workers to remain strong and united and that they must continue to pressure GAWU to represent them adequately.
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