Government has postponed the closure of the Rose Hall Sugar Estate from the end of 2017 to sometime in 2018, and the Guyana Agriculture and General Workers Union (GAWU) is urging the Administration to make this position permanent, so as to allow workers to keep their jobs.
GAWU President, Komal Chand, gave reasons for this proposal, stating that even during discussions with the Special Purposes Unit (SPU) of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), consensus was arrived at that the best position was to keep the estates open.
“We feel that is not enough. We don’t want them to push back; we want them to make the decision permanent. It should be reversed instead,” Chand told this publication.
The GAWU leader said officials from the SPU are interested in getting the estates functional. “They are talking about getting the work continuing, and they might pause for a few months, and that may be for the entire first crop in the next year,” he added.
Chand said that if everything goes well, “they feel that both estates have the potential to do well and to become sustainable.” He noted that during a meeting with the SPU officials on November 14, they also expressed concern with the removal of the assets of those estates, agreeing with GAWU.
“In fact, we have commented on this matter and we made this aware to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo)… It’s not private assets, but state assets,” Chand further stated.
The GAWU official told this publication that if the sugar estates had not been nationalised in 1976, most of them would have already been closed by now. He said it is therefore important that Government reverse its plans to privatise those estates and factories, in order to save the industry.
However, he noted, “estates would not be able to continue on sugar revenues, but they can use bagasse to produce electricity and some other stuff, which GAWU had submitted in its proposal.”
He continued, “Keep them open and make these estates more productive, to bring down cost. We are hoping that we halt the decision to close and sell Skeldon and turn this industry around.”
State Minister Joseph Harmon recently announced plans to push back the closure of the Rose Hall Estate to 2018. The decision was taken to push back the closure until works being done by the SPU are completed.
Back in May, Government had announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.
Ever since that announcement, workers attached to the various estates, backed by their unions –GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) — have taken to the streets in several protest demonstrations, to signal to the Government the negative impact the closure will have on workers and the economy as a whole.
In fact, the Rose Hall Estate workers had only last week said it was not too late to reconsider closing the facility at the end of the crop. One of the workers’ representatives, Glen McCloud, had said the workers were hopeful that there would have been a re-look at the intention, having recognised the obvious hardship that would result from the estate’s closure.
Last month, GuySuCo announced plans to retrench 2,500 workers by the end of this year; but GAWU said the downsizing and subsequent closure of sugar estates would lead to the loss of more than 15,000 jobs and the potential threat of poverty for between 50,000 and 100,000 people.
Workers believe Government has no plans in regard to making provisions for those workers who would be displaced by the closure of estates.
As it relates to the Skeldon and Enmore estates, State Minister Harmon has explained that the SPU would have to conduct evaluations, surveys and inventory assessments before any steps are taken to actually sell them.
It was recently reported that the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has submitted a proposal for the acquisition of the East Coast Demerara estate. A statement from Head of the SPU, Colvin Heath-London, last month detailed that an international accounting firm will be recruited to evaluate GuySuCo’s assets for privatisation and divestment.
Selected tenders were invited from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte, and KPMG to provide the services to the SPU as international financial services provider. The selected firm would be conducting the valuation of all assets under the control of GuySuCo, in addition to other advisory and financial services.
After the winning firm is identified, which should be anytime, work will commence in regard to the valuation of the assets. The preparation of a prospectus is expected to be completed by the end of January 2018.