The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has taken note of Mr. Abel Seetaram’s letter titled ”PPP & GAWU destroyed sugar” that appeared in another daily on July 13, 2017. Our Union believes, as a responsible organisation, that we need to respond to this letter under Mr. Seetaram’s name and who persistently blows hot air in the letter columns. We have repeatedly stated that this propaganda-styled letter, similar to those earlier sent by Seetaram, seems to be authored by a person who is obviously upset by our Union’s outspoken and just stance on the diabolical plans for sugar.
Mr. Seetaram, in his latest diatribe, charged that our Union was sleeping between 1992 and May, 2015. Clearly, Mr. Seetaram is not acquainted with the GAWU’s work and indeed, it seems that it is Mr. Seetaram who was asleep and clearly is still asleep. In that period, like all previous years, the GAWU continued to champion the cause of and articulated the concern of workers in the sugar industry. Through our representation, workers’ rights and benefits steadily improved and they and their family have been enjoying a better quality of life.
However, those years of improvement are currently being undermined by the actions, seemingly aided and abetted by Mr. Seetaram’s party, of the Government and the recently coined ‘New GuySuCo’. We need not remind Mr. Seetaram that sugar workers are the only group of the State employees who have had their pay stagnated at the 2014 levels in spite of the rise in the cost-of-living; nor do we have to remind him about the reduced API in 2015 and its outright denial in 2016.
He also should be well aware of the withdrawal of other long-standing established benefits such as release-with-pay to attend the Union’s Congress or to participate in educational courses organized by the Union, and since he writes with such knowledge of the sugar industry, he ought to know too of the flagrant violations of the laws of the land, the collective labour agreement, international labour conventions, long-standing principles and practices and even our sacred Constitution by the state-owned sugar company. While the AFC Region #5 Councillor accuses us of fooling workers, the Union questions on what deceit he is referring to, for the facts speak for themselves and do not support your propagandistic outbursts.
Mr. Seetaram then goes on to say that a ”few estates that will be closed so as to make GuySuCo and the sugar industry profitable again”. This has to be one of the most irresponsible statements of our times. Mr. Seetaram, if you are not aware, in making GuySuCo what you consider profitable, 9,000 persons have to be sent to the breadline; 50,000 would be faced with imminent impoverishment; social and economic life in scores of communities would be shattered, and crime, family-breakup and anti-social behaviour would, in all likelihood, become more rampant.
This Mr. Seetaram is to be expected as we see the partial realities now playing out in the communities of Wales. We ask shouldn’t people and not profits be foremost? When the business environment is downsizing and investors’ confidence is being eroded is the decision to “close a few estates” so that “GuySuCo could be profitable again” and put 9,000 people out of work still a prudent decision, Mr. Seetaram?
We then see the Mr. Seetaram seemingly criticizing our Union of not striking during the 1992 – May, 2015 period. But then we see GuySuCo, repeatedly through its missives in the press and elsewhere, accusing the Union of striking too much, and incidentally the highest number of strikes occurred during that very period that Seetaram cited. We remind the Councillor that you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Mr. Seetaram despite repeated clarifications by GAWU and others regarding the closure of Diamond and LBI Estates you perpetuate in making incorrect and false statements. We wonder whether it is a case of your being confused, as it seems you are, or whether you are just being mischievous. Whatever the case may be please allow these facts to sink in. Diamond Estate was closed in 1985 when the factory and a large part of the cultivation was shuttered. What remained of the cane cultivation remained operable until 2011 when the 300-odd workers received their redundancy pay in keeping with their rights as outlined in the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.
Interestingly, it is the same law that GuySuCo is now flouting in the case of the Wales workers though a precedent has been established. Mr. Seetaram, if you weren’t aware, many of those former Diamond workers took up work at Wales until that estate was placed on the chopping block without any plans for the people who were dependent on its operations. In the case of LBI, the factory was closed in 2011 and the 137 workers were absorbed in the Enmore factory, the Enmore packaging plant, and the LBI field and factory workshops.
LBI Estate, however, was closed in the second half of 2016 when several departments were closed and a number of the workers were transferred to Enmore or in some cases made redundant. Our Union also demanded severance for the transferred LBI workers as their jobs had become redundant. Again notwithstanding the law and the precedent, GuySuCo has adamantly and wrongly refused the workers legitimate request. That matter is now engaging the attention of the Court.
Mr. Seetaram, our Union resisted and expressed our disagreement, in the highest order, with respect to all the decisions on closures. A simple internet search would be edifying, we believe. You may also want to speak with your comrades as they should be very much aware of what really transpired.
Mr. Seetaram repeats another charge that anti-Union elements have levelled at us, that is we are only concerned with dues. This is furthest from the truth as one could be. On this score, we ask the Councillor if there is merit in what he saying? Our Union has called for the LBI and Wales workers to receive their severance? Certainly, a great lot of those workers will very well seek employment outside of sugar and, therefore, cannot pay dues. It seems, the author is not rationally considering the letter he signs.
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