GAWU will continue to defend workers’ interests

first_imgDear Editor,The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) refers to a letter titled “GuySuCo is inviting sugar workers who feel misled to meet with management” which appeared in the June 21, 2017 edition of Stabroek News. The letter, under the hand of the Corporation’s Senior Communications Officer Ms Audreyanna Thomas, is seen by us as yet another public relations stunt employed by the sugar company in an effort to again denigrate our Union for its unrelenting and principled stance in defending the rights of thousands who stand to be affected by the ill-conceived plans for the sugar industry, as being advocated by GuySuCo.From the Corporation’s letter, it seems that the Union-organised protests at several estates are getting under the not-too-thick skin of the Corporation and its handlers. Our most recent activity — at Albion on June 20, 2017 — attracted an appreciable turnout, and demonstrates the disagreement shared not only by workers and their families, but by the wider communities with the plans for sugar, which will definitely pose severe and grave challenges to their livelihoods.Ms Thomas, in her letter, referred to the State Paper, which speaks to the continued operation of Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt estates; but she does not speak about the threat to close Uitvlugt, which was announced even before the ink had dried on the State Paper. Nor did she speak about the closure of LBI Estate in the latter half of 2016 on the grounds of consolidating Enmore, and then the about-face a few months later, when we learnt on December 31, 2016 — which was confirmed in the State Paper — that Enmore Estate would also be closed. Such contradictory statements do not repose much confidence in the State Paper and the utterances of GuySuCo. The GuySuCo officer may recall that – not too long ago, after the announcement of the Wales closure — we were informed by Guyana’s highest official that, in all likelihood, no more estates would be closed. Then, a few months later, we were advised about the need to close more estates. Obviously, credibility is seriously lacking.Our Union, nevertheless, is supportive of all plans which would secure the sugar industry; but, at the same time, cannot lend a supporting voice to plans which would wreck lives and imperil entire communities, as we have seen playing out at Wales. The Communications Officer may be interested to know that during the publicizing of our recent Albion activity, we met a vendor who resides at Wales and had plied his trade at the Wales market, but is now being forced to conduct his business at the Port Mourant market, as a result of the depressing state-of-affairs that have gripped the communities linked to Wales Estate. He expressed his fear and apprehension for the outlook of the future should more estates be closed. We ask: How can any right-thinking organisation offer its support to such a plan?Ms Thomas speaks about the securing of the industry through its non-sugar diversification programme, but this aspect seems to have suffered a stillbirth. As far as we are aware, apart from the planting of rice in some areas of Wales, nothing else is being done. Furthermore, our anxieties in this area have been heightened after we read Mr Tony Vieira’s letter, which also appeared in the June 21, 2017 edition of Stabroek News. Even the heavily promoted aquaculture venture Ms Thomas spoke so eloquently about had cold water thrown on it by Mr Vieira. While Ms Thomas spoke about workers being given lands to engage in agriculture production, this seems to be a pipe dream. As far as we are aware, no worker has, at this time, been given any land in this oft-touted intention, which by itself poses critical questions.The Corporation, like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, goes on to speak to provision of transportation and medical services to the workers and their families and pensioners. Is the company expecting the agriculture workers to join public transportation from their home at 5.00 am, and travel to the cultivation some 5 to 10 miles in rugged off-road terrain? We urge Ms Thomas to become acquainted with the history of the industry. Those facilities she mentioned pre-dated GuySuCo, and were not provided charitably, but came into being out of the struggles of workers. Moreover, the Corporation, in its submission to the Government in October 2016, sought to cease providing medical services, which have been in place for almost 65 years. It is saddening that mere days after our nation celebrated the heroism of the Enmore Martyrs, GuySuCo is obviously seeking to alter history. On the Weekly Production Incentive (WPI) scheme, the Corporation should be ashamed to call attention to this. Probably for the first time since the scheme’s introduction over 28 years ago, no worker benefited from any WPI incentive during the just concluded 2017 first crop.On the strikes in the industry, we reiterate that the majority of the strikes are confined to workers in a gang, and are not all industry-wide, as the Corporation seeks to paint. Most of the strikes are related to price disputes that arose from sub-optimal field conditions, and which are deemed legitimate in keeping with the agreement between GAWU and GuySuCo. Interestingly, price dispute strikes predated GAWU’s presence in the industry. Ms Thomas went on to refer to 150 strikes in 2016, but does not say man-days lost by strikes were the third-lowest between 2001 and 2016. We ask GuySuCo: Doesn’t it find it paradoxical that, whilst the rate of unemployment is steadily growing, it has a difficulty to attract workers? Two (2) years of no pay increases; shortchanged API in 2015, and no API in 2016; arbitrary cutting down of workers’ benefits; present and potential threats of closure have certainly not been helpful to the company’s cause in its recruitment drive. We note, too, the reference to M lost daily as a result of strikes, that figure was also quoted in a whole page ad that appeared under the hand of ‘Concerned Guyanese’ in the June 15, 2017 Kaieteur News. It seems the plot is thickening.We take serious and utmost umbrage with GuySuCo’s view that the GAWU is engaged in sabotage. This is completely unfounded and is a figment of someone’s imagination. The necessity of “customs and practices” is also questioned by the Corporation. Its reference, in our view, points to continued efforts to withdraw long established practices which have evolved over the years and are reflective of the unique nature of the operations in the sugar industry. Moreover, the Corporation also seems to question the wisdom of the workers’ protest actions, but wouldn’t any rational person whose livelihood is threatened take a similar approach? Ms Thomas and her colleagues, ensconced in the comforts of GuySuCo hierarchy, would sing a different tune had the shoe been on the other foot.In passing, Ms Thomas needs to be reminded that workers and the tax-paying public are still awaiting an account of the big sums of money given to GuySuCo in 2015, 2016 and this year, with no showing of any noticeable or tangible results.It’s quite befuddling that when the company’s intent is to lower even the current low production to 147,000 tonnes per year, it speaks of its efforts to increase production and productivity in sugar. GuySuCo seems to be in a haze of confusion.GuySuCo says it will very soon demand a “higher level” of service from GAWU, but such a call is best suited to GuySuCo. For instance, we have seen press reports of the intended expenditure of .5B of what is styled the Uitvlugt Estate Improvement Programme (UEIP) and the intention to produce 40,000 tonnes sugar by 2020, for which neither the Union nor the workers of Uitvlugt have been engaged, and remain clueless about at this point in time.We wish to caution Ms Thomas that our Union is working, and will continue to work, in the interest of our members. We are not a vendor or service provider to GuySuCo that the Corporation can seek us to provide them (GuySuCo) with better quality service. It seems the Corporation wishes to go back to the days of Company Unionism. We wish to advise the GuySuCo that that ship has long sailed.GAWU wishes to assure Ms Thomas that it will continue to appropriately respond in defending and safeguarding the interests of our members, and to inform the public about the grave dangers that lurk from the plans for sugar at all possible forums.Yours faithfully,Seepaul NarineGeneral SecretaryGAWUlast_img read more