– matter likely for Cabinet today
A decision by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) to start issuing staff redundancy letters to workers last week has angered the administration.
The workers are reportedly from Rose Hall Estate in East Berbice.
The administration had delayed the recommended closures of two estates, amid an ongoing privatisation and divestment process underway by a special unit of the state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
The “premature” decision by GuySuCo to send the workers letters that indicated that there will be no place for them in the coming weeks, has placed the Coalition Government in an extremely awkward situation, a senior official close to the privatisation and divestment process said yesterday.
“We have been holding off as we continue to examine all angles, including the best options for our workers. We have a process ongoing and we are still determining if we are going to keep all the workers and will need more. There are several potential investors who are signalling different things.”
The decision by GuySuCo last week to issue letters would have contradicted Government’s stated position that the closure of Rose Hall, East Berbice, and Enmore, East Demerara, have been delayed till next year.
A number of ministers have expressed disappointment with the letters and have signalled intentions to have Cabinet take a stance on the matter.
In fact, a few weeks ago, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, in confirming the delays in the closure, said that a number of other things are happening with the protection of workers, paramount to his Government. The matter is likely to be discussed today at the Cabinet level with the Government’s unhappiness of the situation to be relayed to GuySuCo.
News that some 400 workers are likely to be confirmed as losing their jobs in coming weeks was met with widespread condemnation including from the business community of Berbice, vendors and taxi drivers.
Since entering office in May 2015, the administration has been making it clear that the status quo of GuySuCo, with 16,000-plus workers, cannot continue.
Year after year, consecutive governments have been forced to plug billions into the industry to pay workers and creditors.
It is a new factory at Skeldon, up for privatisation and divestment, is unable to produce to meet targets, despite the almost US$200M plugged into a project that included new lands being opened up in the Berbice area. That investment was the largest ever for a single project.
The administration closed Wales Estate, West Bank Demerara, last December, transferring workers, and making scores of them redundant.
A white paper and the findings of an inquiry made it clear that the situation has to be sorted out urgently, unless Guyana wants to keep pumping billions in bailout money annually.
Government said it will only keep three estates – Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt. The rest – Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore- would all be up for offers from investors. In the last three years alone, almost $30B has been dumped into GuySuCo to keep it afloat.
The issue of GuySuCo has been a major thorn in the side of both the ruling coalition and the Opposition, the latter of which has built its grassroots support from sugar estates. This year, the estates are set to barely make it past the 150,000 tonnes mark, one of the worst performances in years.
Yesterday, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) said that the 400 workers are the first batch of several thousands who will receive similar letters.
“The issuance of the letters drove home in a cold manner, the heartlessness of the plans regarding the sugar industry. It is, therefore, heartening, on the other hand, to recognise that so many Guyanese have expressed their great concern about the workers and their families’ fate.
We have seen and appreciate several letters in the press as well as a great lot of comments in social media denouncing the unkind actions by the GuySuCo and the Coalition Government of Guyana.”
For the workers, the receipt of the letters caught them off-guard. They pointed out that just days ago, Minister Harmon informed all Guyana that the plans for the industry’s miniaturisation had been delayed until next year.
“That Minister, according to the press, had advised that the delay was occasioned after it was recognised that no alternatives were in place for the workers who would be affected. For them, it was then a great shock when they opened the letters to learn that they are no longer required in a few days’ time. And to add insult to injury, the sending home of the workers comes in the Christmas Season, a time of joy, happiness and new beginnings. This year, for the workers, their families and their communities the season is filled with darkness and sadness.”
According to GAWU, while the workers now try to figure out their next steps, they undoubtedly require their severance entitlements for them to be able to cope at this unexpected, painful time in their lives.
“While these sums will not be able to support the affected workers for long periods, they, nor the union, are aware when those sums would be payable. GAWU, on several occasions, has sought to have a definitive time from the GuySuCo only to receive uncommitted responses. Our union understands that the corporation, at this time, does not have the monies necessary to pay the workers.”
The union said that the displacement of so many poor, ordinary workers, in short, will be disastrous and will clearly push more people into an impoverished state.
“It is a matter which has quite rightly evoked a great deal of outpouring in our society and one that should touch our conscience.”
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