General Secretary of the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Bharrat Jagdeo on Saturday publicly rejected positive statements by the President of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), Komal Chand about talks with President David Granger.
While Jagdeo insisted that the PPP “has no rift” with GAWU, he appeared to send a strong signal that he would not mind the now aged Chand and other union elders removed. “We will support the union there. You have a lot of good, strong, young, bright leaders of GAWU who will have a great future in building that union and keeping it relevant,” he said.
Coming days after the Guyana Times newspaper, which is owned by Jagdeo’s friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi Ramroop, reported that sugar workers were calling for Chand to be removed, Jagdeo for the first time openly criticised the veteran trade unionist. Jagdeo said the government earned “a huge” public relations capital from a meeting between Granger and his ministers and Chand and his fellow trade unionists.
Specifically, the PPP General Secretary objected to Chand saying that GAWU was pleased to the meeting and it was important to talk about the future of the workers.
“What’s this agreement and that bothers me. This is a government, how can you find them genuine when they have just sent home seven thousand of your members but this didn’t come from GAWU,” Jagdeo told a news conference.
The former Guyanese leader noted that GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural , Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) came away from that meeting with President Granger and his ministers without an agreement for all of the workers to be paid their severance in full promptly, a subsidy, re-hiring of workers, provision of an electricity subsidy and the provision of more loans for training
“The unions came away with nothing and the government came out with a wonderful statement,” Jagdeo added. He noted that government rejected the PPP’s calls for studies to be done, ignored GAWU’s proposals, findings and recommendations of its own Commission of Inquiry and calls for the bipartisan parliamentary Economic Services Committee to discuss the Commission of Inquiry report.
“I have personal issues with the statement because it means that all that have gone…and you find them still a good partner when they decimated almost half of your membership and there is no promise to help them in the future,” he said.
He said GAWU was yet to clarify what was meant by finding common ground and agreeing to fully collaborate with government to find a solution to the benefit of all stakeholders.
“We have listened and we are satisfied that you are concerned with the issues. We are ready to work along with the Government to explore the options and we are going to give our best to see the situation out. You are right that there are no winners in this and we are willing… We are certainly pleased with this meeting. This is the first meeting [for the year] we have been able to have with the Government and we believe that the meeting took place in a positive atmosphere and we recognise that the Government itself pays attention and I think that it is a good beginning. That is certainly important ground rule that we dialogue, that we talk and try to find an answer for the way forward. We are pleased. From GAWU, we are very pleased and it spells out that the future engagement are in the interest of the workers, the industry and the country,” GAWU President, Komal Chand has been quoted as saying in a Ministry of the Presidency statement after the talks.
In an effort to make the point that GAWU and the PPP have no problems, Jagdeo said GAWU General Secretary, Seepaul Narine sat next to him at a recent meeting with sacked sugar workers at Enterprise, East Coast Demerara and also addressed that gathering.
For Jagdeo’s part, he has also stated that the PPP has changed its position on the sacking of the more than 4,000 workers and now instead wants to see a better deal for them and the sale of the assets at Skeldon, Rose Hall, East Demerara and Wales. “Now that the termination has been done- we were opposed to it- closure of these estates but we will push… we hope that we can get decent private investment into these estates. This is a position that we have changed because we were saying ‘no closure’ but now that there is closure, there is no job that we can… we can get decent investments into this,” he has said.
Chand is one of the few remaining old guard PPP members who is a still a parliamentarian. The others are Clement Rohee, Gail Teixeira and Indra Chandrapal.
Over the years, Jagdeo has slowly wrested the PPP from once influential and leading ideologues including Donald Ramotar, Ralph Ramkarran, Moses Nagamootoo, Feroze Mohammed, and Harripersaud Nokta.