The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) on Tuesday hosted a one-day conference dubbed ‘Sugar to big to fail’ where they along with other invitees, spanning government, the opposition, and the diplomatic corps, among others, reflected on the industry, its impact and its future.
In his opening remarks, President of GAWU, Komal Chand dedicated his speech towards verbally broadsiding the incumbent Administration for downsizing the industry that resulted in some 7000 workers losing their jobs.
Premising his argument on ‘sugar being too big to fail’, Chand articulated that the industry simply cannot being seen in the ambit of profit and loss.
He noted that Sugar has transcended mere finance and has become a “social institution in our society. Some have argued that this should not be the case but the reality is that its importance stretches beyond a black-and-white notion of profitability.”
According to the GAWU President, “as we take stock of those factors, the sending home of some 7,000 workers over the last two (2) years without any plan to address their welfare and loss of their livelihood, clearly this has to be among the most callous of decisions ever made by any Government in our country in our over half a century of independence. The Government, by its very actions, has seriously affected communities; has shattered the hopes of the youth, and has pushed thousands of Guyanese into misery-filled lives.”
He followed up his assertion by outlining that many of the workers who have been placed on the breadline, remain right there unable to find steady jobs and, in some cases, any job at all.
“Today, the hopes nurtured from such talk as “sugar will never die” or “we will fix sugar” heard boisterously during the 2015 elections campaign, have been dashed. It is most upsetting that this approach had been taken especially recognizing that it was not necessary in the first place and that there were very good and real possibilities to overcome the difficulties in the sugar industry” said Chand.
The moves now being made to divest the industry and sell the four estates that were closed as attractive investment opportunities by Government was described, in essence, by the GAWU President as being hypocritical.
He noted the one of reasons put forth initially for the closure of the estates was that they were not viable and unsustainable, but according to Chand “Investors are being told that the estates have the possibilities of co-generation, alcohol, ethanol, packaged sugar, and refined sugar, among other things…It was also touted that the estate will offer 85% mechanization from mechanical tillage/planting to harvesting and excellent drainage and irrigation systems with new pumps.”
As such, the GAWU President posited that it is “incomprehensible to the rational thinker that an enterprise with such obvious advantages was even identified for closure in the first place. The GAWU cannot help but wonder whether these clearly seen features did not leap out at our decision-makers and cause them to second-guess whether they were being properly advised or being led astray?”
The bottom line according to the Union President is that they want the industry to succeed as a large number of Guyanese depend on its operations.
“We have seen the ramifications of the vacuum created by sugar. But, success must involve a collaborative and comprehensive approach. There is no singular magic bullet but hard work, commitment, knowledgable personnel and, of course, a motivated workforce – factors which are critical elements in overcoming the difficulties as we have done time and again” said GAWU.
The coalition Government had made its position clear that the move to downsize the industry was a necessary one, as the monies used as annual bailouts were too much.
But the Opposition said even if this was the case, the laying off of workers could have been done in stages, to allow for them to prepare for alternative employment.
Now that the preliminary valuation works of several estates have been completed, the Skeldon, Rose Hall-Canje, East Demerara/Enmore, and Wales Estates are now being advertised for sale.
Meanwhile, there have been calls for Government to give out the sugar lands to the dismissed workers for them to develop to earn a livelihood.
President David Granger at a recent press briefing was adamant that there is a future for the sugar industry but the only way forward was by downsizing it.