Govt moves to close more sugar estates

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…as workers decry hardships

As Government considers its options moving forward in regard to the cash strapped Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), more estates are expected to be closed.

This was confirmed by Minister of State Joseph Harmon at the post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday.

Enough is enough: Wales Sugar workers who gathered on Monday morning were promised their severance payments since late December 2016
Enough is enough: Wales Sugar workers who gathered on Monday morning were promised their severance payments since late December 2016

Asked whether Government would be closing any more estates going forward, Harmon said, “Well, there are proposals with respect to diversification; and in the diversification plan, there is a proposal to that effect.”

While the Cabinet Secretary opted not to go into details about how many estates would be closed, recent reports have revealed that Government is looking to privatise most of the estates within the cash scrapped industry, leaving only about three of them in operation.

White Paper

On the other hand, the State Minister noted that during Tuesday’s Ministerial Conference on GuySuCo, it was disclosed that Agriculture Minister Noel Holder has drafted a White Paper on GuySuCo’s future using the proposals advanced during consultations with the Opposition, Trade Unions and other workers’ representative bodies. A White Paper is an informational document issued by Governments to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product or service.

According to Harmon, the draft document, which is expected to be laid in the National Assembly in the near future, deals with the findings of the Commission of Inquiry that was held into the sugar industry, as well as proposals made by the sugar corporation. It also contains submissions made during the consultations with stakeholders and those by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU).

The White Paper, the Minister added, also looks at issues confronting Government in making a decision on the future of GuySuCo. Those include the recovery of drainage and irrigation charges from the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA); the transfer of Health Centres and the recovery of costs to Government; the fate of the Skeldon Estate; diversification of leased lands; and, most importantly, the interests of workers and their families.

Workers and families

Minister Harmon reiterated that whatever decision is taken by Government, it would be done in the interests of the workers and their families on the forefront.

“First and foremost, will be the welfare of the workers and the families of those workers in whatever we do with respect to the sugar industry. The welfare of the workers and their families is of primary concern. The other economic concerns and so on will of course be dealt with, but the workers’ interests is at the forefront of whatever policies we are going to embrace with respect to the industry,” he promised.

This position, which has been repeated several times by top Government officials since 2015, comes in light of continuous protest actions taken by hundreds of Wales, West Bank Demerara cane cutters over the non-payment of severance benefits.

Following the end of sugar operations at Wales Estate last year, the sugar workers were told that they would be transferred to Uitvlugt Estate. However, many of the workers are demanding that they be paid severance on the basis that they cannot be compelled to travel 22 miles from their point of origin.

“The industry ah bully we! But they want we to work but we [don’t want to work at Uitvlugt]; we want money. We want the Agriculture Minister and Moses Nagamootoo, we want (President David) Granger – all ah dem – to intervene in this matter,” Neil Mosely, an estate employee with 25 years of service in the industry, explained during one of the protest actions last month.

The Agriculture Ministry had contended that all workers who had opted to take severance payment have already been paid, something which GAWU deems misleading as the workers hold out that they must be paid.

The closure of the estate has directly affected hundreds of workers and farmers, and thousands of persons in Wales and surrounding communities indirectly. Among those affected are sugar workers and their families, and the local economies of several lower WBD communities, including Patentia, Vriesland, Wales, Goed Intent, Sisters & Bellvue.

“Since the second week in December, we nah work nowhere and we nah get no money! We deserve we money now!” protesters claimed during one of the protest actions taken last month.

During an interview with this newspaper last week, Patentia-based Hindu Priest Surendra Tiwari, who has been in practice for the last eight years, described the future outlook for the surrounding communities as “grim”. He highlighted the numerous challenges villagers and the business community have encountered as sugar processing came to a halt on December 31 last, with many of them being forced to seek alternative forms of employment to sustain their livelihoods. (Guyana Times)

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