Response is made to GAWU General Secretary Seepaul Narine’s letter, “The current Administration’s attitude and level of openness towards the sugar industry is bleaky” (KN 15th Jan 2020)
My letter (KN 12th Jan, 2020), “Is GuySuCo’s management attempting to embarrass the Govt. by refusing to bargain with the unions?” expressly stated “It is not being said that the Coalition Government has done a stellar job in handling the sugar industry.”
What this statement means is that the government has not done a stellar job. That Seepaul seeks to twist my statement suggesting that I said the government has done a “stellar job” is mischievous and dishonest. Having set that aside, attention is turned to the other extant issues.
I stand by my position that Bharrat Jagdeo, as President and Leader of the Opposition, has failed the sugar workers, their families and communities. This position has been arrived at after careful study of his handling of sugar in both constitutional offices.
As President, he pumped over US$200 million into the failed Skeldon Factory, a debt we are now saddled to repay. It was during his administration that preferential prices for sugar changed and the opportunity offered by the European Union (EU) at diversification was squandered. It does not suggest shrewdness in decision-making, ignoring the reality that sugar-producing countries were entering the EU and Guyana, a non-member, would find it difficult to sell its product to the same people at the price we’re producing.
Further, whatever explanation was put forward as to the functioning of Diamond, it cannot be denied it was the Jagdeo government that closed the estate. His government thereafter converted those lands into housing. But those who toiled there, under harsh conditions, were given no special consideration for house lots. Anybody who knew Cheddi Jagan knows he would have offered the affected workers first preference to ownership.
Talking about what Khemraj Ramjattan et al purportedly said about sugar cannot deflect from the Jagdeo PPP management of the industry. The fact remains the PPP has always projected itself as the friend and champion of these workers, and its current leadership has done nothing more than betray them and their families.
You would have never heard under the Jagans any threat to de-recognise GAWU, who is considered the industrial arm of the party. In December 2010, President Jagdeo threatened GAWU with de-recognition for standing up to GuySuCo on the workers’ behalf.
As Leader of the Opposition, all he did was talk the talk, but never walk the walk for sugar workers. He spent a lot of time accusing the government of not caring for these workers, but never laid before the government and/or nation a plan to show he cares. Jagan would not have done this.
This nation is well aware the management of GuySuCo is refusing to engage the sugar unions in collective bargaining to address increased wages and salary.
Minister of Finance Winston Jordan commenting on this matter recently, reportedly “stressed that the union must sit with management to come up with a deal for satisfactory pay packages” (SN-Dec 6, 2019: Granger, Jagdeo differ on way ahead for sugar).
Said newspaper on 9th December 2019 reported, “GuySuCo’s Chief Industrial Relations Manager Deodat Sukhu, has said that the financials of the company shows that it cannot afford to pay an increase. Sukhu, who heads the GuySuCo’s negotiation team, related that the cash-strapped corporation does not have the revenue or cash flow to pay workers the requested increase” (GAWU hopeful of wage hike offer from gov’t).
He further said that “position was made known to union representatives,” but this does not constitute collective bargaining. Collective bargaining entails sitting at the table, negotiating by examining various options with a view of arriving at resolution to the impasse.
Mr. Jagdeo has not taken a strident position to GuySuCo’s violation of Sect 23 (1) of the Trade Union Recognition Act and its transgressing of the workers’ constitutional right (Article 147). Were he committed to those workers’ welfare, he could have sought engagement with the Minister of Finance and President with a view of having this issue addressed and some form of remuneration granted.
Sugar workers held a special place in Dr. Jagan’s heart. As Leader of the PPP and Opposition, he would have taken strident positions on this matter, including calling out GuySuCo and exhausting the political channel to secure resolution.
Jagdeo has taken a different approach. His is one that seems to have made a calculated deduction that there is more political value in having the workers’ grievances and economic dislocation unattended. We must ask to what end or whose benefit.
In the last four plus years, the Opposition has not aggressively pursued sugar workers’ interest. Unapologetically, I say Cheddi who fought all his life for the welfare of these workers would have ensured, at the political level, the atmosphere was created for engagement between management and union. He would have doggedly pursued the arriving of an agreement at the negotiation table.
Whereas Jagdeo is no Cheddi, it is not unreasonable to expect he would have learnt a few things from his predecessor, particularly the art of deal-making as it relates to politics and industrial relations.
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