Eyewitness: Workers’ woes…


…in the cane fields

Your Eyewitness just read about one of the biggest “eye-pass” he’s seen in years. In fact, it amounts to “rass-pass”!! And this is against the cane cutters of Albion Estate, including more than 300 from Rose Hall Estate – who’d already suffered rass pass when Granger shut the latter down. To spite them for voting PPP! So what is the rass pass? For this you gotta know a bit about sugar – which some of you Dear Readers might be a tad ignorant (no insult intended!) about. Even though as Martin Carter reminded us, “We (all) come from the Nigger Yard”.

During the post-slavery “apprenticeship” and Indentureship periods, the sugar workers in the fields were assigned “tasks” – by the “drivers” – to complete daily. If they didn’t complete them, they had to do so the next day to collect the money agreed to for the task. No task, no money!! After Indentureship, the workers struck regularly – and were just as regularly killed for doing so – when their task assignments were violated. In the modern era, nothing much changed save after trade unions were recognised they’d bargain for the quantum paid per task – which was based on the tonnage of cane cut-and-loaded into punts.

And this is what has just hit the fan at Albion. The cane cutters there just came out to protest the gross abuse of their labour by management during this crop. Seems that after cutting canes for which a team of three or four workers used to haul in seven or eight tonnes per day – from two or three “beds” of cane – this suddenly plunged to one-third of that, this crop!! And at a measly $1100/day for cutting and fetching a tonne of cane on their heads, this meant they were taking home a miserly $5000/ weekly. And as one worker pointed out, this didn’t even cover the meal they had to bring to work!!

The workers suspected they were being gypped on their cane weights at the factory, but management countered that the canes were lighter because of the floods. And for some reason – which your Eyewitness can’t fathom – the Union agreed that the workers would have to complete some other task in the fields – like cleaning trenches and drains – following their cane cutting-and-loading!! Well, after this rass pass, the cane cutters have had enough!! Why in the world should they suffer for “light cane”?? Has management cut their salaries – or taken on additional tasks – because the industry can’t meet its targets??
Management is supposed to be meeting Union officials from yesterday to hammer out a new agreement.
They better come good or else they might just lose their entire workforce !

…and COVID-19

While sugar workers are up in arms over their starvation wages forced down their throats, in common with the rest of the working world and Guyana, they face the pressures from COVID-19. Unlike the developed world –- where almost half of their workforce can work remotely from their homes – we’re so underdeveloped that our workers have to be there in person to perform their basically manual tasks. Like picking up garbage, cleaning streets, showing up in offices, teaching in schools, etc…and being exposed to the deadly COVID-19 delta variant!

And it’s not just being in the job…they gotta use public transport – meaning minibuses – to get to and from their workplaces. There are some who complain that the Government must be more drastic in shutting down the country. Can these folks say from where the workers who’ll be affected get their daily bread and roti?

As such, we must become our brothers and sisters’ keepers: vaccinate and observe the physical protocols!

…and oil

Now that the droplets have settled from the geysers of oil spouting from under our Atlantic, we’re beginning to appreciate that – from a workers’ perspective – most of it won’t see Guyana’s shores.
Our Private Sector Engine better start pulling soon!!