Jan 18, 2020 Letters
The GAWU has considered the response of our trade union colleague, Mr Lincoln Lewis which appeared in the January 17 editions of the Kaieteur News. At the outset, we recognize that Mr Lewis has clarified he never meant to convey that the Coalition had and is doing a stellar job regarding the sugar industry. Indeed, overwhelmingly there is evidence to confirm it’s less than poor handling of the industry which have affected and stand to affect the thousands who depend on it. At this time, we wish to reiterate that we hold no brief for the Opposition Leader, Mr Bharrat Jagdeo, however, at the same time, our Union, as a responsible organization, must bring clarity to some of what Mr Lewis says.
Mr Lewis, in beginning his latest chastisement, contends that the Skeldon factory was a failure. On this score, we must disagree with Lincoln. When one considers the level of interest expressed by private persons to acquire the estate, it appears to us at least, there obviously is some worth and potential. Also, many other former and current sugar industry officials, apart from our own assessment, have told us too that Skeldon has the potential to turnaround and we cannot agree with the trade unionist that the estate is a failure.
The letter writer next charges that EU funds for diversification were squander. We again must disagree. We feel constrained to reiterate that funds that flowed from the EU were used to construct the Enmore packaging plant, to hasten conversion of lands for mechanical operations, to further cane planting, among other things. It is through those efforts, that the Sugar CoI determined that the packaged sugar being sold by GuySuCo obtained the highest returns. Similarly, those efforts saw the East Demerara Estate having a significant proportion of its cane fields being mechanization friendly. Apart from that, we saw the co-generation plant at Skeldon raking in billions of dollars per annum. It is unfair, and clearly amiss, to say that diversification was not pursued as they are several tangible examples to point to.
Mr Lewis seeks to downplay what Minister Ramjattan told the Unions and the Opposition during the consultations on the future of sugar. The point is that even the sincerest efforts, in our view, wouldn’t have made a difference as the Government had made up its mind on a course of action. The reality is, as Mr Lewis would well know, that it takes two to tango. In other words, a receptive ear and open mind had to be at the other end. We strongly believe that this was not the case. Obviously, the Government couldn’t have been ignorant to views of the people who stood to be affected. Thousands took part in activities to denounce the closures and the Government did not flinch even a millimeter. Besides the workers and the Union, several including the Opposition Leader allied themselves with the struggle to avert closure. Clearly, the Coalition did not care, it had one aim closure regardless of the punishment and hardship to the workers or the consequence and ramification of such actions.
Next, we see the invocation of Dr. Jagan who indeed stood with all workers during his lifetime. Mr Lewis would know of this. But while Mr Lewis talks about the threatened de-recognition of GAWU, he, at the same time, fails to point out the disrespect that has been shown to sugar workers and their organizations in recent times. Imagine, the Union and the workers had to go to Court to have the right to severance respected. Even on to now, our Union is still engaged in Court battles regarding an aspect of severance pay owed to some of the Wales cane cutters. Apart from that, the GAWU was forced to seek judicial intervention to enforce workers rights to have the Union present during their engagements with GuySuCo on their redundancy. Also consider that our Union was forced to complain to the ILO regarding the Corporation’s non-engagement in Collective Bargaining. And, that several international and local trade union organizations have condemned the Administration’s treatment of the sugar workers. So while Mr Lewis may want to speak about Dr. Jagan as a champion of the workers, which he was, he should also, in a similar vein, speak about the oppressors of workers’ rights we have now-a-days too.
We are heartened by the support Mr Lewis expresses for Collective Bargaining in the sugar industry. Indeed, as he points out, it is a right that is outlined in our laws and the Constitution of Guyana. However, Lincoln would recall too that the Coalition had promised to engage in Collective Bargaining, something it has failed to do. Its petty explanations and rationales, of course, cannot be considered sufficient justification to disregard our laws. The point here is that it is hard for the Government to blow hot and cold despite whatever urgings it may receive and from whatever quarters those urgings may come from.
Mr Lewis says “[u]napologetically, 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.” We have no reason to doubt Mr Lewis, but Dr. Jagan was dealing with a different beast at that time. In our current day situation, experience has taught us that engagements with the Administration do not see sincerity on their part. Recent history has seen engagements between the Opposition Leader and the Government on other matters which have not been entirely fruitful. Just remind ourselves of the appointment of Justice (retired) Patterson as GECOM Chairman.
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