- against sugar estates’ closure
The Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) is still working with people in the sugar belt to get their support to protest the impending action to close more sugar estates in Guyana.
The union is actively engaged in discussions that look at ways in which they could help to inspire more workers to protest what they have described as an unconscionable decision.
President of GAWU, Komal Chand, told this publication on Sunday that sugar workers are still fired up and will do whatever it takes to have the coalition Government reverse its decision.
Chand said the union is also contemplating its next “serious” move, and has a particular action in mind that could help to change the decision; but this will be used as a last resort.
“We don’t want to disclose that yet. So, we don’t think the mood is getting dim. We think the workers are there, and if they see more action and protest, (it) will put them in that spirit to fight this decision and stand up to the Government to the end, and avoid the closure,” he explained.
The GAWU leader said the recent public meeting held by the union, which saw Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo addressing the gathering, was well attended, and this shows that people are deeply concerned about their future and those of their families.
The union has also organised a public meeting in Berbice for Tuesday, and there will be more of these meetings in the coming weeks and months.
“People still want to do something, but they want to ensure that their action will bring about some reaction or change,” he added.
Chand also maintains that the Government has a moral responsibility to hold a referendum to determine whether the sugar industry should be downsized or not, as it has the potential to affect thousands of people employed within the industry.
The GAWU head reminded that many of the current Government ministers who were in the last political campaign had made a lot of promises to the people in regard to sugar. However, these same people are now supporting the miniaturising of the industry, which will render about 10,000 workers redundant, and could affect thousands of households.
During the public meeting on August 30, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo told sugar workers that the number of jobs slated to emanate from the emerging local oil industry will not suffice for, or outweigh, the avenues of employment that existed in the once thriving sugar industry.
Jagdeo claimed that Government’s decisions on the industry are motivated by malice and a lack of consideration for thousands of employees and their families, who stand to suffer from the closures. He also told the gathering at Enterprise, East Coast Demerara that, from an economic perspective, there is much risk in being too heavily dependent on oil, given the volatile nature of the market.
Over the past months, GAWU has been holding several protest actions across the country and along the sugar belt, and has managed to get the support of not only sugar workers, but persons in the various communities, as well as shopkeepers, pensioners and concerned citizens.
Former Presidential Advisor and economist, Ramon Gaskin, has warned the Government to be careful how they go about implementing this new policy. He emphasised it could have a negative effect on the local economy. Gaskin said it could also lead to the increase in other social ills that remain prevalent in society, including suicide and crime.
The economist believes that if Government goes about addressing this issue the wrong way, it could find itself facing a rebellion along the sugar belt. He referred to the 1904 Rose Hall rebellion and said this could occur again, unless alternative employment is provided to the thousands that are likely to be affected.
In announcing plans to downsize the sugar industry, Government said it plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar estates and sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, but keep functioning estates at Blairmont on the West Bank of Berbice, Albion-Rose Hall in East Berbice, and Uitvlugt-Wales in West Demerara.
Government also plans to cut sugar production to approximately 147,000 tonnes per annum, to satisfy the demand in the local market (25,000 tonnes per annum); Caricom and other regional markets (50,000-60,000 tonnes per annum); the United States (12,500 tonnes per annum) and the world market (50,000 tonnes per annum).