Sugar workers protest “closure” of Estates

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…as Skeldon’s 1st crop for 2017 shelved

Workers attached to the Rose Hall Sugar Estate on Wednesday staged a demonstration over plans by the Government to close the Estate.

More than 2400 workers of the Rose Hall Estate in Canje are in fear of displacement amid reports about the entity getting out of cane operations under the diversification plans of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

Wales workers demanding severance payments Thursday morning
Wales workers demanding severance payments Thursday morning

Field Secretary for the Estate, Neisham Diaram said the signals being given indicate that many of the workers would soon be on the bread line. He said the workers were expressing their concerns also for workers on the East Coast of Demerara and on the Corentyne.

“The people out here because of the signal to close the Rose Hall Estate, closing Enmore and selling out Skeldon. We are also concerned about the people at Wales. They are out here, because they see the suffering of the people at Wales [Estate, which is also slated to be closed] and so they know what can happen to them. They are aware of the economic situation they will face. If the Estate closes down, they will be out of a pay day,” he said.

If Rose Hall goes, according to Diaram, the nearby town will also suffer. New Amsterdam depends heavily on that estate to sustain commercial activity in its already depressed economy.

“The entire community will be affected – the hire car drivers, the small shops in the community, the stores in New Amsterdam, the fish vendors and all the economic activity in this community will be affected,” Diaram said.

Proposals to sell off a number of estates of the bankrupt State-owned GuySuCo and shed non-core operations, like drainage and health services, were recently shared with the Unions and the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).

GuySuCo and Government are considering shrinking the existing estates to three: Wales-Uitvlugt, Albion-Rose Hall and Blairmont.

Meanwhile, the sugar workers attached to the Wales Estate, West Bank Demerara continued a fourth day of protest voicing their displeasure against GuySuCo’s nonpayment of severance packages.

On Thursday, workers once again protested the Wales Estate, and informed this publication that the Corporation was still undertaking efforts to compel them to continue their service at the Uitvlugt Estate on the West Coast of Demerara.

As such, the workers are making moves to extend their protest actions to the capital city, Georgetown, to bring more attention to their ongoing plight.

Speaking with Guyana Times, during the protest action on Monday, the workers stated that they have had enough of the uncertainty over their owed payments and reiterated their rejection of being transferred to the Uitvlugt Estate. The frustrated workers demanded that their severance packages be paid immediately, as they were reportedly promised to them since December of last year.

It was after GuySuCo’s meeting with GAWU on Wednesday last, that the Sugar Corporation disclosed to the public that there was demand for labour at the Uitvlugt Estate, which would start its first crop later this week. According to the workers, they were informed last Friday that the Union reportedly agreed for employees to be transferred to Uitvlugt, but the sugar workers stressed that they were not prepared to go anywhere, citing distance as their key reason.

In early 2016, Guyana Times broke the news of Government’s intention to close the Wales Factory. Shortly afterwards, Government confirmed the end of sugar operations at Wales Estate, citing cost as the main factor for closure. It was later disclosed that rice would be planted as part of the diversification plan, but it remained unclear when the first rice crop would be reaped.

Skeldon operations suspended

Meanwhile, weeks after it was publicly disclosed that two foreign investors had expressed interest in a takeover of Skeldon Estate, negotiations may be brought to a stand-still as mechanical issues have suspended sugar operations there. This comes against the backdrop of continued protests by sugar workers who have registered their disdain over the “closure” of Estates and lack of severance packages for workers who desire such payments.

One week after being officially informed, GuySuCo on Thursday publicly disclosed that the Skeldon factory’s co-generation plant was not safe to continue operations and the problems could not be rectified until the final months of the year.

“On Thursday, February 2, 2017, the Skeldon Energy Inc (SEI) informed that the co-generation plant was unsafe to operate and advised that the First Crop 2017 should no longer take place, as up to seven months were required to address the problem,” an excerpt from the Corporation’s official statement noted.

The Sugar Corporation added that it was currently undertaking measures to garner external engineers and boiler manufacturers to “determine the extent and cost of repairs” in an effort to rectify the problems associated with the boiling equipment.

Against this backdrop, GuySuCo suspended sugar production at the Estate, which caused the abandonment of this year’s first crop.

“Every effort will be made by SEI to have the co-generation plant back in operation by late August,” GuySuCo noted. “The Corporation is currently examining a number of options for meaningful engagement of the Skeldon Estate employees during the period of the first crop,” it added.

It was also noted that meetings were scheduled for Thursday (February 9) and today with the relevant unions as well as cane farmers to provide updates on the situation.

It was recently disclosed that an Indian firm, Shrinath Ispat Limited, was introduced to Government by Tony Joseph, the son-in-law of Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. It was noted that Shrinath Ispat Limited wanted to take over the management and operations of the entire Skeldon Estate, including sugar manufacturing and co-generation of power. The company had promised to provide a more detailed plan for takeover if the proposal piqued Government’s interest.

Additionally, D Rampersad and Company Limited (DRCL), a Trinidadian firm had earlier indicated its interest to invest in the Skeldon Estate. The company had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-Invest) on behalf of the Government for the undertaking of a feasibility study.

This feasibility study was proposed to commence on April 3 and would be completed in the first quarter of the year. It is now unclear if the companies will continue the takeover negotiations given the mechanical problems which have surfaced. (Guyana Times)

 

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