Veteran trade unionist, Lincoln Lewis believes the APNU/AFC government has “handled poorly” the issue of the closure of the Wales sugar estate on the West Bank of Demerara which has resulted in hundreds of workers being left on the breadline.
“The manner in which the announcement of the Wales proposed closure was made has contributed to polarisation in the society and this will deepen and widen if a process is not arrived at to bring stakeholders to the decision-making table,” Lewis said in a statement today.
According to him, doing this is not only consistent with the rule of law but would also prevent a very serious issue from further becoming a political football by the self-serving and pushing this nation into camps on a matter that should be a unifier.
Lewis, who is the General Secretary of the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), alluded to the fact that social cohesion is vital to this nation’s development, and said it is time the “government not only talk the talk but walk the walk”. “From the outset the Wales estate issue has been handled poorly,” he declared.
“GuySuCo is a state entity and any decision taken on this company must be arrived at after careful consideration that would lead to prudent decision-making by stakeholders. In the meantime the National Assembly, the nation’s highest decision-making forum, needs to convene and discuss the Commission of Inquiry Report which can give guidance to the decisions that ought to be made about the industry,” Lewis stated.
He noted that this nation has spent millions on this commission and its report cannot be allowed to gather dust like others. This is even more important given the precarious nature of the industry, its drag on the economy, and the socio-economic impact/consequences on workers/citizens.
“The Wales issue borders on national interest. The price of sugar is not determined by us and it is for this reason the stakeholders are called upon to constructively engage, with a view of determining what is best for the workers/citizens in Region Three. Wales is located in Region Three. This Region is won by the PPP. Since the closure of the estate will impact on a number of workers/citizens and communities it requires the involvement of the affected stakeholders and central government working towards alternative programme to cushion the impact that will be created,” the veteran Trade Unionist pointed out.
“This means that the Regional Democratic Council, the trade unions representing the workers, the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils in the region, central government, cane farmers, and the PPP need to meet and deliberate,” he said.
He noted that when one looks at the stated configuration “what is not seen is a winner-take-all system”.
Lewis said what is seen is a platform to realise inclusionary democracy as prescribed by the Constitution in Article 13 which the President of Guyana commits to uphold and has consistently been calling for. This article which is the nation’s Principal Political Objective very clearly states that when it comes to the management and decision-making processes of the State, individuals and groups are required to be involved on matters that impact their well-being.
On this noted he alluded to the fact that Minister of State Joe Harmon is on record saying the government has a plan for the workers who will be affected by the closure. “Harmon and Noel Holder, Minister of Agriculture are called on to rethink this position. Consistent with Article 13 there cannot be a plan for any community without the involvement of the people and their representatives,” Lewis said, adding that the rule of law must be respected at all times.
CLOSURE NOT RECOMMENDED
Meanwhile, another veteran trade unionist, Komal Chan, is strongly of the view that the decision to close the Wales sugar estate flouts a fundamental and important recommendation of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report.
Chan, who is Head of the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), pointed out that on page 30 of Volume One of the Report, it stated: “The COI does not recommend the closure of the any estate at this time.”
He pointed out that government ignored the recommendations made in the COI report by moving ahead with the closure of the Wales Sugar Estate.
According to the COI Report, two commissioners had suggested the closure of the GuySuCo estates. However, the eight other commissioners had advised against it, noting that it would result in dire consequences for the sugar workers particularly at this time during the economic crisis in the country.
Former Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy also holds strong to his view that the decision to close the Wales sugar estate is “a mistake” on the part of the APNU+AFC government which will have a devastating impact.
He told INews last week that this decision by the present Administration demonstrates the coalition government’s “ill intent” towards sugar workers and the industry as he contended that there is no economic basis for closing the Wales estate, located on the West Bank of Demerara.
As a result of this course of action, he said there will be an adverse effect on not only the country’s already flailing sugar industry and Guyana’s economy but more importantly on the livelihoods of people living in Region Three.
“The intended closure of the Wales Sugar Factory is one that APNU+AFC was determined to do from the inception and is not merely because of any recommendation from the COI. It is in fact the beginning of the closure of the sugar industry that several members of APNU+AFC had proposed prior to the May 2015 election in Guyana.
Even though leaders like Moses Nagamootoo and David Granger were forced to say that they will not close the industry, clearly those pre-elections assurances were merely meant to disguise their true intention,” the former Agriculture Minister posited.