The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) wishes to respond to Mr Earl Hamilton’s letter entitled “GAWU absolves its father, the PPP, from the sugar industry crash” which appeared in the October 11, 2017 Kaieteur News.
Mr Hamilton is the latest voice being deployed to criticize our Union for its stance in defending and protecting workers in the sugar industry. In seeking to castigate the GAWU, seemingly at all costs, the letter writer has abandoned logic and even fact.
We wish to advise Mr Hamilton that it is not GAWU but GuySuCo, supported fully by the political directorate, that is putting some 10,000 sugar workers on the breadline and putting them and their family’s face-to-face with poverty as the sugar company pursues its estates closure and estate sellout thrust.
Our Union, on the other hand, has been among the leading voices calling for a reversal of those plans recognizing the obvious hardships it would bring and the repercussions for the society, the economy and the country.
In advancing his case, the author accuses our Union of being an arm of the PPP. This again is another falsehood which has been parroted by several persons. Our Union has said it time and again that our members belong to probably all the political groupings in the country. This is their right and we fully respect their view. In recognition of this noteworthy fact our Union is not affiliated to any political organization whatsoever.
Mr Hamilton continues to rail against our Union as he decries our support to our members as they called on the GuySuCo to honour its wages obligations to them. Contrary to the author’s assertions our Union and the workers were clueless regarding payment of their wages except to read in the press that the sugar company and the Government were engaged in discussions.
Certainly, had the letter writer been in any of the worker’s shoes having to go home and sadly tell his spouse and his children that he hadn’t been paid and that he wasn’t sure when he would be paid and that he wasn’t sure how they would eat or go to school, Mr Hamilton would have sung a different tune.
Contrary to what is being peddled, sugar workers aren’t well-to-do people. They depend very much on their wages to sustain them and their families especially since they faced a longer-than-usual out-of-crop period in this year particularly.
We also wish to tell the letter writer, that sugar workers do not strike fashionably as he insinuates. They are forced to take protest action after their backs are braced firmly against the wall and there is no other option for them to take. Sugar workers, like all workers, must have their rights and conditions respected.
We are then accused of being dishonest. We hasten to ask what are we dishonest about? Mr Hamilton isn’t it factual that Wales Estate has been closed and around 1,700 workers affected? Isn’t it factual that GuySuCo and the Government have articulated a policy to close East Demerara and Rose Hall Estates putting on the breadline around 5,500 workers? Isn’t it also accurate to say that there is strong intent to sell Skeldon Estate and affect the well-being of around 2,500 workers? Isn’t it also factual that thousands of other Guyanese and scores of communities will be affected by the closure and sell-out if the thrust is adopted? Isn’t it also accurate that GuySuCo’s production has fallen precipitously notwithstanding significant Government support? Isn’t it also factual that workers are working at 2014 rates-of-pay while confronting 2017 prices? Mr Hamilton these facts are not airy fairy or wishy washy, they are real and staring workers, their families and others in the face.
It is then said that GAWU and the sugar workers were pampered. This statement only serves to further expose the author’s ludicrousness. The benefits, rights and conditions enjoyed by sugar workers, like it is for all workers, were not a result of anyone’s or any organisation’s benevolence but arose from the hard-fought struggles of the sugar workers, now and in the past. We recall PM Nagamotoo, in 2010 speaking about the struggles and sacrifices of the sugar workers. Today we see open disrespect and arbitrary withdrawal of those benefits which Mr Hamilton contends were handed to the workers on a platter.
GAWU has expressed on several occasions its willingness to enhance its supportive stance and to assist the sugar industry in facing up to its challenges. Unfortunately, Mr Hamilton, it seems similar thoughts are not harboured by those who now-a-days are ensconced in the GuySuCo’s hierarchy. We strongly hold that the sugar industry could be turned around and we have shared our thoughts with the Government and GuySuCo in that regard. This is a well-known fact.