Even as the Guyana Sugar Corporation begins shedding staff from Wales Estate ahead of its planned closure later this year, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) Monday dismissed plans to provide lands to workers for farming.
Reacting to the announcement by Chairman of Guysuco’s Board, Professor Clive Thomas in the privately-owned Stabroek News newspaper at the weekend, GAWU President Koma l Chand said diversifying into vegetable (cash-crop) farming. “That will not really absorb the workers because many of them would not be able to engage in vegetable farming because of many challenges,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.
He said constraints include poor drainage, absence of refrigeration facilities, inadequate market opportunities and existing competition.
Chand again reiterated GAWU’s position that it would unprofitable for private cane farmers to have their canes transported to Uitvlugt Estate, West Coast Demerara due to the high transportation cost and the lowering of sucrose content.
Asked whether it would be more feasible for Guysuco to pay the transportation costs for harvested canes from Wales to Uitvlugt, the GAWU President said that approach would work only if the government purchases the cane as is done in parts of Africa. “Rather than they be paid for the sugar produced from the cane, they would be paid for the tonnage of canes produced so that is one of the ways to save farmers who are there and the would-be farmers,” he said.
GAWU Monday said in a statement that on Friday, 5th January, 2016, about 60 field and factory workers at Wales were given marching orders by Gusyuco. “They were told that they were no longer engaged in employ of the Estate on the ground that they were temporary workers. These workers worked previous crops at the Estate. A few of them, including young females, we understand, were told they could be further employed to cut and load canes, if they wished,” said the union.
GAWU added that on Monday, 8th February, 2016 more than 50 planters were were reportedly told by GuySuCo officials that if they did not to take up employment at Uitvlugt Estate and did not agree to accept severance pay within the three (3) days, it would be regarded by GuySuCo that they have opted to leave the Estate’s employ.
“GAWU condemns the so-called interviews at the instance of GuySuCo with the workers and the high-handedness adopted. The Union also wishes to point out that the interviews are being conducted behind the backs of the workers’ Unions – GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).
Chand rejected Professor Thomas’ claim that GAWU’s representatives did not attend Guysuco Board meetings or the union would have known about the closure and plans for Wales Estate. Chand said the General Secretary of GAWU, Seepaul Narine never took up the position as a director of the sugar corporation. “GAWU is not a member of the board. The government selected the General Secretary of GAWU to be on the board. It will be a conflict of interest for him to serve on the board and be part of GAWU’s negotiating team which might take positions contrary to the board’s positions on issues,” he said.
The GAWU President said Narine has written to Guysuco declining his selection as a board member but advised that the union would be willing to select its representative. “It ought not to be selected by the government or the minister,” he said.