The GAWU must again take this opportunity to provide a response to Mr Lincoln Lewis’ latest installment of the frank conversation between our Union and him regarding occurrences in the sugar industry. In Mr Lewis’ most recent response, which appeared in the January 23 editions of the Kaieteur News and another newspaper, we are told that Mr Jagdeo apparently never implemented any agreement he had with Messrs Hoyte and Corbin regarding the bauxite workers and their communities. Certainly, Mr Jagdeo could provide clarity on this matter. Nevertheless, by Mr Lewis’ notion, shouldn’t the same yardstick be applied to the Coalition Government which has promised to address the plight of the sugar workers but has not done anything?
We are also asked about the exchanges between the President, the Minister of Agriculture and the GuySuCo regarding the petition by sugar workers. On this matter, we are not au fait with the discussions between the parties on the petition. We did learn, from a source, that both Messrs Granger and Holder were presented with several proposals regarding a pay rise to sugar workers. That submission, we were told, was made on two (2) occasions, firstly in October, 2019 and then a few weeks later in December, 2019. Moreover, Mr Lewis may have seen that, over the last weekend, we disclosed that Mr Granger has referred the issue to Mr Holder. So far, we have yet to hear from the Agriculture Minister, but we would not hold our breath either.
Mr Lewis continues to refer to Minister Jordan’s statement that the Management of GuySuCo must sit with the union to address the workers pay rise matter. The Finance Minister sentiment, on the surface, may seem acceptable and rational. Recall too that Minister Lawrence made similar statements, while former Business Minister and AFC Treasurer, Mr Gaskin, said all workers deserved a pay rise. We say this to illustrate that GuySuCo’s Management, and perhaps its Board, is being set up as the bogeyman as the Government seeks to extricate itself. We are aware that in GuySuCo they are sympathetic views regarding offering the workers a pay rise, however, such views cannot become reality without Government support. As we pointed out many times, those proposals sit on the desks of Messrs Granger and Holder, probably gathering dust.
Mr Lewis asks us, among others, why Mr Jagdeo hasn’t intervened on the sugar worker pay rise matter. But Mr Jagdeo did weigh in pointing out that some of the bond proceeds could be used to finance a pay rise. We believe GuySuCo has similar views as well. It may not be the approach Mr Lewis desires and wishes but it cannot be said too there was silence. Of course, the ball on this matter lies with the Government and GuySuCo. The Corporation had promised to address this matter before the end of 2019, to date there has been no response despite a reminder from the Union.
The long-standing trade unionist, also says “GuySuCo, which is now controlled by NICIL via shares, comes under the Minister of Finance.” However notwithstanding this reality Mr Lewis, our Union and the public has been told that GuySuCo still falls under the ambit of Mr Holder. Mr Lewis next says Mr Jagdeo ought to have engaged the Finance Minister to ensure that the Union and the Corporation sit around the bargaining table. But whether it has missed Mr Lewis or not, the GAWU and the GuySuCo are at the bargaining table and we have addressed several other matters. What is outstanding is the issue of pay rise which obviously the GuySuCo cannot address unless it receives guidance from the Administration. Or is it Mr Lewis saying that Mr Jagdeo can compel Messrs Granger, Jordan and Holder to positively consider the matter?
While Mr. Lewis may remain unbothered, a word that has its own meaning given happenings locally in recent times, about Mr Ramjattan’s attitude, on the other hand we are very much bothered. It is Mr Ramjattan’s and his colleagues being unbothered, and one could say cavalierness that sees tens of thousands of Guyanese in miserable times and difficult situations. Mr Lewis goes on saying that as one who assists to pay Mr Jagdeo emoluments he has every right to hold him accountable. But by that same token, given that he also assists to pay the super-salaried and high perks Government, shouldn’t he also hold them responsible or are they let off the hook?
Mr Lewis next says during the Jagdeo Administration “…GuySuCo became increasingly reliant on the Consolidated Fund.” But while the industry did benefit from support, it did much more with much less. During that period support to the industry was never as much as it was during the stint of the Coalition, yet it operated seven estates and workers benefitted from pay rises and incentives. But Mr Lewis forgets that in the years when the industry was in better standing it contributed immensely to the coffers of the State and the well-being of all Guyanese. That contribution came at a significant opportunity cost. It is well recognized that had the sugar levy, for instance, remained with the sugar corporation it would have, in all likelihood, been able to modernize and diversify its operations and become better able to adapt to changing conditions. Rather the industry put country and Guyanese first.
Mr Lewis also speaks again about the Skeldon Factory but fails to recognize that it was the first attempt during the period of State ownership to modernize the industry. Dr. Yog Mahadeo on a Globespan programme on January 20, which featured two union officials, disclosed that the Skeldon project was an idea that originated from the World Bank and later embraced by the GuySuCo. He also said that the project was examined and signed off by the major financial institutions at that time. Indeed, it was a bold attempt to bring the industry up to present-day standards. While it did not pan out as was hoped, we still believe that, with appropriate changes, it could demonstrate its worth.
Mr Lewis also charges that the EU monies were never released to GuySuCo. Previously he said that those monies were squandered. On this score, we repeated what we indicated in our letter that was published in the January 18, Kaieteur News. In that letter we pointed out: – “The letter writer next charges that EU funds for diversification were squander[ed]. 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.”
While Mr Lewis may wish to harangue Mr Jagdeo contending that he must approach the Government on the sugar workers issues, we wonder what the purpose of the Administration is. Shouldn’t the Coalition be able to address these matters without Mr Jagdeo? Is Mr Lewis saying that the Government is ineffective and must benefit from the Opposition Leader’s intervention?
Mr Lewis also accuses us of spinning poorly. We want to tell him we are not engaged in any spinning but all we seek to do is to offer clarity. He may not want to agree with what we are saying but that is for him to decide. Nevertheless, it does not take away from the reality that sugar workers under this Administration have been treated most discriminatorily and as seeming outcasts. They have suffered tremendously and have borne difficulty and hardships and they are forced to contend with many injustices perpetuated against them. As we have said before, and reiterate again, time is the ultimate judge, it ultimately rights the wrongs and corrects the injustices. We are sure that time will finally address this matter.
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