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Sugar workers strike for annual production incentive

Operations at the cash-strapped and low-producing Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuco) ground to a halt on Wednesday when field and factory workers went on strike to demand payment of an Annual Production Incentive (API).

Workers were expected to return to work on Thursday ahead of another meeting on Friday (December 13).

President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand said the workers staged a one-day strike to demonstrate that they are serious about their demand despite low sugar production.

The state-owned sugar corporation is unlikely to make 190,000 tons of sugar-its third revised target- this year. Its wage and salary bill is more than 60 percent of steadily declining revenues. “It’s not that GuySuco is in a worse position now because, while they are in financial trouble, there were also in financial trouble in those years,” he said.

GuySuco several years also suffered a 36 percent cut in the lucrative price that Europe once paid for the sweetner.

Chand, however, said that workers have customarily received API, formerly Annual Production Bonus, dating back to the 1950s even in times of very low production in 1990-1991.

“The stance of GuySuco just infuriated the workers,” he said. “This is a right and this is something that workers will strongly defend to receive Annual Production Incentive,” he said.

If the union gets its way at least 16,000 workers could benefit from the API of little more than six days pay.

The GAWU official blamed GuySuco’s management for the industrial unrest, saying the company had repeatedly ignored several telephone requests dating back to November 18 for negotiations to begin on the API. He said it was not until a strongly worded letter was dispatched to the corporation last week Friday that management opted to meet on Tuesday (December 11,2013).

Chand said when the shop stewards, who were among a 40-member union delegation to the first round of talks, informed their rank and file a decision was taken to go on strike.

Government and the management have repeatedly appealed to the union to minimize industrial action because it was affecting the industry’s revenues and market commitments mainly to Europe, United States and the Caribbean.