The majority of striking sugar workers returned to the fields yesterday, but hopes for a miracle to pull the industry from the slump it has found itself are fast dwindling.
Yesterday, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Paul Bhim, said that striking cane harvesters have resumed work except for two gangs at Albion Estate, East Berbice.
The industry has now further revised downwards its production for the year and it is likely to be at around 190,000 tonnes of sugar, Bhim confirmed.
In 1990, the industry recorded 129,000 tonnes, one of its lowest production years.
Workers downed tools on Tuesday after talks between GuySuCo and its main workers’ union, Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), fell through when the Corporation reportedly said that it could not afford to pay the traditional production bonus this year.
The union had been demanding almost seven days’ pay for 201,000-tonne production.
During the meeting Tuesday, the Corporation said that it does not have the money to pay. On Wednesday, workers on all eight estates downed tools.
With estates to cease grinding until December 21, eight days from now, and with rains threatening, the writing on the wall had become all too clear for both the unions and GuySuCo that even the revised 203,000 tonnes was a tall order.
Coupled with this is the fact that workers’ turnout has continued to plague operations.
According to the CEO, the industry’s average was 42 percent yesterday. With just over 7,000 cane harvesters, this meant just over 3,000 have actually been turning out. The poor turnout has become progressively worse over the years as workers migrated or moved unto other jobs.
Even a programme to use mechanical harvesters has failed to arrest the labour problem.
GuySuCo has over 16,000 workers, inclusive of office staffers.
After last year’s two-decade low of 218,000 tonnes, the industry had set a 260,000 tonnes target for this year. It was revised downwards a number of times to 203,000 tonnes before the 190,000 tonnes.
GuySuCo has recorded just over 180,000 tonnes for the year.
The 190,000 tonnes would be significant as it is around that amount that Guyana is contractually obligated to deliver to its European customer, Tate and Lyle.
On Wednesday, the Corporation said that the strike will only exacerbate its ability to meet financial obligation.
“Despite low production, strikes and low turnouts, the Corporation in good faith continues to enhance wages.”
GuySuCo claimed that it reached an agreement with the unions for an across the board increase of four per cent, effective from January 1, 2013. The retroactive payments totalling $735M will be paid on December 20, 2013.
GuySuCo’s performance has been troubling Government for a number of years now with the US$200M Skeldon expansion programme and new factory and a US$12.5M packaging plant at Enmore failing to turn fortunes around.
Government has since green-lighted the hiring of technical experts from India to help repair faults at the Enmore factory. Billions of dollars in assistance have been also approved by the National Assembly to help the ailing industry.
Further talks on the production bonus between GuySuCo and GAWU are expected to continue today.
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