Apr 07, 2018 News
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), are strongly objecting to moves to return the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) back under the control of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The statements would come after recent attempts were made at the level of Cabinet with proposals to scrap the current Board that was appointed and place the corporation back under the Ministry.
It will be recalled that at the end of last year, the shares of GuySuCo was transferred to the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), a state-owned entity that handles shares and investments of state entities.
Under NICIL, a Special Purpose Unit (SPU) was also established last year to handle the assets and privatization and divestments of the four closed sugar estates- Skeldon, Rose Hall, Enmore and Wales.
Before that GuySuCo was under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Last year, the Ministry and the cash-strapped GuySuCo came under severe criticisms after more than 4,000 workers lost their jobs within weeks at Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore.
The Cabinet was not informed officially and there was discussion of those redundant workers, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, later admitted.
The life of the previous Board of Directors for GuySuCo, under Professor Clive Thomas, was not renewed.
A new board under Colvin Heath-London, who also heads up the SPU, was appointed.
However, it appeared that at the Cabinet level, there were objections to the new board which includes prominent activist and businesswoman, Annette Arjoon-Martins, and Rosh Khan.
The Ministry of Agriculture, which was allocated to the Alliance For Change under the Coalition Government, reportedly wants GuySuCo back.
According to officials, there have been proposals to bring back Errol Hanoman, the former Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo whose contract ended in December.
However, the Cabinet is reportedly divided on the matter and some ministers are distancing themselves from what was described as a fiasco over those workers being sent home.
Yesterday, it appeared that the union bodies are backing the Heath-London led board.
For FITUG and GTUC to band together now on such an issue would be highly unusual. They have been at loggerheads over the years with separate May Day rallies.
“…Like many Guyanese and even those beyond our country’s shores, have been following very closely the developments in the sugar industry in recent times. Some 7,000 workers have lost their jobs following the closure of Skeldon, Rose Hall, East Demerara and Wales Estates in the last two years.
Despite repeated calls and sincere advice not to proceed in this direction, the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo), under its previous leadership, proceeded with what could only be described as a disastrous policy that has severely undermined the social fabric in several sugar communities and has hovering clouds of despair over thousands of ordinary Guyanese,” the union bodies said in blaming the ministry and previous GuySuCo management.
Against that background, FITUG/GTUC said that they were extremely dismayed to learn that attempts are being made, or possibly a process has been put in motion, to reverse a decision to transfer responsibility for the GuySuCo from the Ministry of Finance and the NICIL back to the Ministry of Agriculture.
“Our organisations must pointedly say that it cannot support such a move recognizing the clear failure of its past leadership. Our nation has seen sugar production declining by over 40 per cent between 2015 and 2017 in spite of the support provided by the State; at the same time, the workers and their representative organisations have been treated in a most distasteful and disdainful manner and have seen several hard won benefits simply taken away; and we cannot forget the massive failure of the resuscitated and short-lived GuySuCo other crops division which despite millions being expended has not gotten off the ground and former cane fields converted for seed paddy at Wales are slowly being overtaken by bushes and vines.”
The union bodies said that certainly the sugar industry, which is so important for many reasons, cannot afford to be placed back in the hands of those who provided such ruinous leadership.
“Our bodies sincerely contend and strongly believe that moving in such a direction will only serve to inflict further harm on the sugar industry which is now nearly four (4) centuries old – the oldest economic endeavour in our country.
“This is not in the interest of the Guyanese people, especially the tens of thousands who depend on the industry’s operations. Such a reality, we hold, will bring about irreplaceable harm to our country and set back our progress and development.”
The union bodies acknowledged that there have been strides made recently.
“While we are aware of allegations that NICIL hasn’t had the proudest of records, we, at the same time, note attempts being made to resume operations at the three recently closed estates. FITUG/GTUC while pleased with this development also cannot fail to express our concern over the contractualisation of the 1,000 workers who, reportedly, have been re-employed.
“Though we understand this is a temporary arrangement, we at the same time, cannot turn a Nelson’s Eye to the expansion of such informal employment relations in our country.”
The statement urged those contractors to ensure that workers NIS payments are honoured.
The FITUG/GTUC also said it is aware the recent $30B financing secured to improve the viability of the remaining GuySuCo estates.
“We welcome this initiative and look forward to learning about the plans to realize the viability objective which is necessary and needed in these times. While our bodies believe that a workable plan must involve the workers and their organizations who are critical in reaching the desired ends and goals.
“We believe the present direction the new leadership is taking the sugar estates is one whereby many lost jobs would re-emerge. In such circumstances, the stakeholders would unavoidably be involved in the thrust to make the industry sustainable.”
The organisations said that they strongly uphold that it is time to end the hopscotching approach to the sugar industry in the interest of all concerned.
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