GAWU claims Police suppressing sugar workers’ right of expression

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The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has raised serious concerns about ranks of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) for suppressing the cries from sugar workers who were picketing outside of the Ministry of the Presidency on Tuesday.

Sugar workers protesting for better wages outside President David Granger’s office on Tuesday

On Wednesday, the Union said that several restrictions were imposed on the picketing workers, and in their view, it was intended to stymie their right to freedom of expression.
GAWU detailed that during the commencement of the exercise, protesters assembled on the western side of Vlissengen Road, Georgetown in front of President David Granger’s office – a routine which the Union said had been practised for many years.

However, during Tuesday’s picket, they were told to remove from their position.

It was contended that no harm was posed by the sugar workers since it was a peaceful activity.

“Within minutes of our gathering up, a Police vehicle arrived on the scene and several officers required us to remove from the parapet in front of the President’s office. The officers shared that it was a security precaution though we posed no threat to life, limb or property and were peacefully demonstrating. We had to wonder whether the Force responds to calls from citizens with such swiftness,” the Union said in a statement.

The workers were then forced onto the eastern side of Vlissengen Road, which came with several restrictions, the Union said, adding that one Police Officer also came in contact with one of the protesters and threatened to arrest him. Adding to that, this arrangement posed a challenge in monitoring the traffic.

“The officers demanded that we remain behind the eastern-most lane marker. As a result, the protesters were confined to the rain-soaked, muddied, narrow parapet in front of the trench that runs parallel to the Castellani House. In fact, at one time, the Police grabbed a worker by his shirt and threatened to arrest him had he stepped beyond the lane marker. At one time, a Police bus brought several policemen to the scene. Later, a truck carrying several metal barricades arrived, seemingly, with the intent to place further restriction,” the Union explained.

GAWU has shared the position that the restriction was organised to minimise the visibility of the protest. Furthermore, questions were raised as to whether the freedom of citizens is “disregarded”.

“Obviously, the protest must have been seen as an embarrassment to some and must have gotten under the not-so-thick skin of some in power. Their reaction, we believe, was manifested through the security forces…We must say we take the officers’ explanation with a pinch of salt. The situation has caused our Union to wonder whether we are now in a Police State where the rights and freedoms of citizens will be disregarded and the security apparatus will be used to quell dissenting voices and actions”.

A crowd of workers from the remaining Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) estates staged a picketing exercise demanding better wages. They were last given a salary increase in 2014 and many expressed that the cost of living and other expenditures have significantly increased.