Response is being made to GAWU General Secretary Seepaul Narine’s letter “All workers must be treated justly, equitably and fairly” (KN 22nd January 2020). There is full agreement all workers must be treated justly, equitably and fairly, but the man whose stewardship is under review never embraced or practised this universally acceptable principle.
Seepaul’s deception that “Mr. Jagdeo accepted [Hoyte and Corbin’s] proposals and went on to implement them” has to be laid to rest. Leaders of the Opposition Desmond Hoyte and Robert Corbin were able, through dogged pursuit and militancy, to extract an agreement (2001) and communiqué (2003) with President Jagdeo to attend to matters affecting workers, which included the beleaguered bauxite workers and their communities.
Jagdeo NEVER implemented those agreements, though history will record Hoyte and Corbin fought and succeeded in bringing him to the table. As Leader of the Opposition, he never fought to bring the Coalition Government to the table to discuss the sugar industry and these workers’ welfare.
In the absence of being briefed (publicly or otherwise) on the exchanges among the President, Minister of Agriculture and GuySuCo with regards to an October 2019 petition by sugar workers for pay raise, there cannot be a definitive pronouncement.
If Seepaul is willing to share the totality of those exchanges with the public or me, an informed comment will be forthcoming. This notwithstanding, what still stands is that in December 2019, the Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan “stressed that the union must sit with management to come up with a deal for satisfactory pay packages.” This is two months after the October petition!
GAWU and/or the PPP is/are yet to respond to my question: Why Jagdeo refused to use his political privilege and muscle to work with the Minister, GuySuco and GAWU to ensure collective bargaining and arriving at “a deal for satisfactory pay packages?”
In the presence of this fact, it cannot be understood the reason for arguing that, “even when the industry couldn’t have afforded to offset pay raise to the workers [Jagdeo] stepped in [to] ensure that the sugar workers…benefitted from some improvement in their pay levels.”
GuySuCo, which is now controlled by NICIL via shares, comes under the Minister of Finance. Cheddi Jagan would not have failed to reach out to the minister and/or publicly hold him to account for his statement and sought to bring the management and union to the table. Jagdeo continues to fail in this regard.
I remain unbothered and unmoved by the effort to bring Ramjattan into a matter that has no bearing on Jagdeo’s leadership on sugar, as President and Leader of the Opposition. It is his stewardship that is under questioned and must be accounted for.
If holding him to account is deemed “incomprehensible” and a “preoccupation” that’s a matter for Seepaul, but him (Jagdeo) having held these two premier constitutional offices, and as one who pays his emoluments and a trade unionist, I’d be darned if I fail to hold he who has responsibility unaccountable.
Seepaul needs to stop spinning, because he is doing a poor job. The fact that GAWU took legal action during the Jagdeo and APNU+AFC administrations to ensure workers receive their benefits under the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, means both administrations flouted the law. It matters not that in the instance of the PPP the court case was withdrawn before payment and the Coalition moved to pay after the court ruled. In both instances, workers were not paid promptly as expected under the law and sought judicial recourse.
Further, I am not going to accommodate his game of twisting my words to divert attention from the germane issue. My stated position on the matters of solidarity and collective bargaining are clear and could be understood by any Standard Two child. Likewise, is the mischief to give the impression there is opposition to GuySuCo, which is state-owned, having to rely on support from the Consolidated Fund.
The fact remains, it was under the Jagdeo administration the sustenance of GuySuCo became increasingly reliant on the Consolidated Fund, which underlined a financial problem and his inability to address same. Further, where both Opposition (now government) and Government (now Opposition) supported the release of funding, validates the point that Jagdeo’s refusal to try to secure pay raise for sugar workers through engagement with the government was deliberate.
The face-saving attempt by Seepaul on the management of the over US$200M Skeldon factory does not hide the fact that in 2013 Roger Luncheon, the government’s spokesperson, said it was a “letdown” (KN, 29th March 2013- US$200M Skeldon Sugar Factory seen as a letdown).
In that said article, Tony Vieira blamed the PPP Government for the decline of the industry. Vieira went further to say, “Beginning in 2006, the EU had started paying the development fund to Guyana which was our compensation for the loss of the preferential price for sugar in the EU markets… and the money was never released to GuySuCo.” Luncheon confirmed this!
Nothing Seepaul said moved the needle to support his position that “during the Jagdeo administration sugar workers were treated with respect and dignity.” They were not! In fact, the more he writes the more he allows for the exposure of Jagdeo’s mismanagement of the industry and betrayal of sugar workers and their communities when they were and are at their most vulnerable. The preponderance of evidence continues to show he failed these workers as President and Leader of the Opposition.
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