“The silence about the plight of sugar workers in the sugar industry tells its own story, it is a sad story.” These are the words of Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Komal Chand who reminded the House during yesterday’s Budget Debates that workers are the ‘key and decisive force’ for increased production in any sector and as such they should be awarded and appreciated.
Chand said that despite the fact that workers employed in the sugar industry account for 34 per cent of State employees, they received no wage/salary increases or any form of bonuses last year although other Government employees benefitted from this.
“It is a downright discriminatory act against them…no increase in pay, in harder times workers’ work was safeguarded, their importance acknowledged and they received an increase which maintained their family, paid their bills etc,” Chand declared.
He stated that while the Finance Minister, Winston Jordan had indicated in his 2016 budget presentation that $9B would be provided for the sugar industry, it is significantly less than what the Government had initially said it would provide.
“It is also $3B less than the sum of $12B that the Prime Minister (Moses Nagamootoo) announced at a recent meeting in New York, this is an allocation of only three-fourths of the sum requested by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), the PPP/C MP added.
In relation to the upcoming closure of the Wales Sugar Estate located on the West Bank of Demerara (WBD), Chand explained that this “vexing issue” will affect some 2,500 sugar workers and cane farmers directly and also thousands of persons indirectly.
He posited that the hasty manner in which such an ‘unpopular decision’ to have the Wales Sugar Estate closed causes persons to wonder if there is ‘more in the mortar than in the peasant.’
He referred to the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) report into Guyana’s flailing sugar industry and stated that none of the recommendations documented support the closure of any sugar estate in the country at this point in time.
According to the Opposition MP, the CoI Commissioners had taken into account the present state of the economy which is lacking vibrancy, with awareness of the problem of the sugar industry, the low market price of gold and level of unemployment.
“The effect of closing any estate without planning and adequate notice has serious consequences on cane farmers and sugar workers…you have shattered the recommendations of the commissioners…this callous and ill-thought out decision is a real risk in escalation of levels of crime, poverty,” he added.