A 16-person team from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), including leaders and workers representatives from Skeldon, Rose Hall, East Demerara and Wales Estates, on Thursday, met with officials from the Sugar Special Purpose Unit (SPU).
The SPU is a body under the auspices of the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL).
According to the union, it requested to meet the unit to familiarise itself with the details of the planned takeover of the Skeldon, Rose Hall, East Demerara and Wales Estates at the beginning of the new year. The four estates have been earmarked for privatisation and divestment.
According to GAWU in a statement, the SPU Head, Colvin Heath-London believed that the estates identified for closure and sellout are indeed viable.
“He shared that when certain costs are excluded from the estates overall costs, their cost of production is generally in keeping with international norms. The SPU Head described Skeldon as a ‘gold mine’ which is far different from the phrases GuySuCo used to describe the estate,” GAWU said.
“The SPU emphasised, at this point in time, it was operating at a disadvantage.”
The unit said that SPU has committed to begin re-employment of some of the displaced workers possibly early in the New Year. This would happen concurrently as the unit moves to resume operations at the estates under its management from second crop (July) next year.
“In the early stages, the SPU would be concentrating on improving the functioning of the factories as well as to rehabilitate the cultivations in preparation for the 2018 second crop. On this score, GAWU pointed out that at some estates, it was possible to have a 2018 first crop, which the SPU said it will look into as the picture becomes clearer.
“They shared that they have submitted a budget to the Government to sustain their operations.”
Also, at this time, the SPU is soon to enter into an agreement with PricewaterhouseCoopers to be engaged in conducting a valuation of the assets of the estates that will be in its charge.
The consultant will also prepare a prospectus for investors who may be willing to invest in the estates.
“The valuators, we understand, will also evaluate the proposals that would be received from potential investors to determine their suitability.”
GAWU stated that with the rehabilitation works going on, the value of the estates could very well improve which the SPU acknowledged as being correct. The SPU did advice us too that it will continue to operate the estates until such time that suitable buyers could be found.”
At Wales, West Bank Demerara, the SPU said that the estate factory was largely cannibalised and therefore diversification into non-sugar crops would have to be pursued. The unit is moving to find investors for these, also.
“In terms of the Wales cane farmers, the SPU said it was working along with them to find ways to continue in cane production and to transport their canes to Uitvlugt. Our union used the opportunity to point out what we believe were some of the factors which inhibited the proper functioning of the estates.
“We did point out, too, that we felt that divestment was not the best approach as we felt that the estates could be nurtured back to a viable state.”
The union said that during the meeting it also raised the issue of the legal challenges of the decisions by GuySuCo. The SPU said it would abide by the ruling.
“The SPU did share with GAWU that it may not be able to retain all the displaced workers. Our union, naturally, queried what plans the SPU had for those workers.
“On this, the SPU said that initially, it would have a job bank of the displaced workers to match their skills with extant vacancies. Our union also asked about training in alternative skills for the displaced workers, on which the SPU said it hadn’t concretised any position at this point.”
GAWU felt that the meeting was very productive and, undoubtedly, the workers who attended felt a little more at ease as they recognised a more “hopeful picture painted” about the future. “The union committed itself to assist in whatever way it can and in the coming weeks and months, the parties agreed to remain in contact and to have further engagements as the SPU plans unfold.”
The meeting would come hours before President David Granger, at a press conference, reiterated that his Government will do all in its power to ensure that workers laid off from the cash-strapped GuySuCO receive their just due.
“As far as the retrenchment benefits are concerned, Government is responsible for ensuring that the sugar corporation fulfils its obligation to the workers.”
The Head of State further stated that the work of the SPU is still being done.
“They are in negotiation, not only with the sugar corporation but also with foreign investors, and I expect that before too long we will have a plan that will explain in greater detail how the lands will be disposed of.”
Recently, hundreds of workers of the sugar company started receiving letters making their service to the sugar company redundant at the end of the year. This move is in keeping with the corporation’s undertaking to move the company to a state of debt neutrality by year 2020.
Since coming to office in May 2015, the government has granted subventions in excess of $30B and has budgeted an additional $6.3B for 2018.
Yesterday, the president described the current demand of bailouts by GuySuCo as haemorrhaging the economy.
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