Further support to sugar industry comes at a critical time – GAWU

Sugarcane workers [File Photo]

The following is a letter by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU)

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), at this time, welcomes the release of additional financial support to the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) from the Government of Guyana. The approval of the sum of $4B on December 28, 2020 by the National Assembly to support capital expenditure in the industry comes at a critical time. During the period of the Coalition Government, capital replacement, notwithstanding the $30B bond, was reduced to a trickle and many important and necessary works were simply shelved. The absence of the required investments has snowballed pushing efficiency of the industry to record lows as is evidenced by the miserable production levels recorded.

The Union recognizes too that many of the usual suspects have lined up to offer criticism to this latest level of support to the sugar industry. Frankly, the GAWU is not really surprised by the utterances of those who have sought to denounce the assistance to the industry. Some of them, we recollect, when they had occupied the seat of power did their utmost to sideline and ostracize the industry and more so the tens of thousands who depended on it for their well-being. Undoubtedly, leopards never change their spots. This is most disheartening though the GAWU continues to remain at a loss as to the reason/s for their vehement attitude to the sugar industry which has and continues to make several tangible and worthwhile contributions to the nation.

While the GAWU is heartened by the latest support, we urge that the monies now approved be properly and prudently utilised by the sugar corporation. Indeed we are aware, that there is a great deal of work to be done if we are to arrest the decline of the industry and begin to chart the path back to sustainability.  We know too that the process will not happen overnight and will come with hard work and dedicated efforts. It is in this light that we see the sugar workers playing a pivotal role in the march to sustainability.

It is a widely known fact that the workers suffered significantly at the hand of the Coalition Government. They hadn’t received any rise in pay between 2015 and 2019 and several of their benefits were simply suspended without rhyme or reason. Apart from that massive increases in the cost-of-living brought about by onerous taxes further eroded their living standards. The GAWU had computed that between the end of 2014 and the end of 2019, sugar workers real and nominal wages had fallen by 46 per cent. This was and is a massive blow to them and their family’s well-being. While we know efforts have been made to reduce the burdensome taxes and this will bring some reprieve, successive years of wage freeze has taken its toll.

Against that background and as much as we are pleased by the investment in physical capital, we urge some level of investment in the industry’s workforce who have been deemed its most valuable asset. Undoubtedly the workers, at all levels, have a significant contribution to make and will play a sterling role in the reversal of the industry’s decline. Already, we have seen the efforts of the workers who despite many adversities continue to persevere and give their best. This is laudable and we have recognised the Corporation acknowledging the workers contribution.

At this time the GAWU and the GuySuCo continue to remain in talks regarding the outstanding 2019 negotiations. The Corporation in a letter in February, 2020 acknowledged that the discussions remained outstanding.

For its part, the GAWU has signalled a willingness to find a settlement and is prepared to listen to any reasonable proposal from GuySuCo. The Corporation, we gather, has transmitted our concerns to its shareholder. We are hopeful that good sense can prevail and the parties can together work towards finding an amicable solution. Undoubtedly it would be a significant boost to workers morale and commitment as the industry seeks in 2021 to begin to correct many of its shortcomings and turn a new leaf as it advances along the pathway to sustainability.