GAWU expresses concerns about sugar during meeting with IMF

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See statement from GAWU on their meeting with the IMF team

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on June 10 met with a team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) currently visiting Guyana to undertake the Fund’s annual Article IV consultation.

The GAWU team, which engaged the six-person team for over an hourwas led by its Assistant General Secretary, Aslim Singh and included the Union’s Organising Officer, Porandatt Narine and Executive Committee member, Gordon Thomas.

The main focus of the discussion regarding the structural changes of the sugar industry.

The Union, on this matter, expressed concern regarded what it termed the two pronged approach adopted by the Government of Guyana. The GAWU team explained that one prong concerned the divestment of three of the closed estates namely Skeldon, Rose Hall and East Demerara Estates and the other aspect regarded the re-capitalization of the estates under the control of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

 With respect to the divestment approach, the GAWU expressed concern that the process appeared to lack transparency. We pointed out that the divestment would possibly be the largest in the nation’s history yet the Guyanese people were none the wiser about the value of the assets being put up for sale. Moreover, we reminded the IMF that its 2017 Article IV report on Guyana had urged the Government to ensure that displaced sugar workers be protected by appropriate safety nets. This suggestion we hastened to point out was not considered as apart from the statutory severance payments to workers, which we reminded were illegally withheld and corrected following the intervention of the Courts, there is hardly, if any, tangible expression of the State’s assistance to the workers and communities affected. We pointed out that since the estate closures, many affected remain hard pressed and finding themselves in difficult and miserable situations. We shared that, in some instances, children’s schooling has been truncated and families have disintegrated. Moreover, the opportunities for employment remain almost non-existent.

 Turning to the plans to recapitalize the operable estates, the GAWU reiterated its concerns about the apparent absence of a plan to guide the large sum secured. We shared that, on several occasions, we asked the GuySuCo about its plan only to receive deafening silence. The GAWU expressed that it recognized President David Granger just last week referring to a plan. We noted that the President had said, according to media reports we saw, that the Corporation was not operating by guess work or hunches. Nevertheless, we shared our apprehensions that despite what, we believe, are our good intentioned best efforts we remain shut out from being knowledgeable about the Corporation’s plans.

 During our engagement, the team also sought our views about the happenings in other areas of the agricultural sector. On that score, we expressed views regarding the rice, poultry and fishing industry. Of course, the oil and gas industry also attracted attention during our discussion as well. On that matter, the GAWU shared its view that it appeared we were least prepared at this time to effectively deal with the industry and what it could bring to the proverbial table. We also shared view about the possibility of inequality between the oil and non-oil sectors of the economy and its ramifications for wider societal issues.

 The team welcomed our forthright expressions and committed to examining our suggestions in finer detail. The GAWU, for many years now, has been interacting with the IMF during its annual country visits . We have found those interactions as worthwhile and provides us yet another opportunity to represent our members and the workers of Guyana generally.