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GAWU rejects claims that strikes played role in missed sugar target

by Samuel Sukhnandan

Seepaul Naraine

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), the larger of the sugar workers unions, has rejected claims that the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) failure to meet its first crop production target was mainly due to multiple strike action taken by workers.

General Secretary of GAWU, Seepaul Narine told News Talk Radio 103.1FM/Demerara Waves Online on Tuesday that the corporation is “trying to pull at straws,” given its recent production report, but argued that it cannot use strike action only to cover up what he described as a “miserable performance.”

GuySuCo saw a sugar production shortfall in the first crop for 2020 by over 9000 tonnes. The company produced a total of 37,015 tonnes of sugar during the first crop. It was hoping to produce 46,476 tonnes during the first crop, instead.

GuySuCo said 50 strikes took place across the three sugar estates- Blairmont, Albion, and Uitvlugt-  resulting in 13,868 loss in mandays and a loss of production totalling 2,307 tonnes.

The overall production shortfall is 9,461 tonnes.

The majority of the strike actions took place at the Blairmont estate which recorded 27 strikes during the first crop, GuySuCo said Monday.

In giving a breakdown, GuySuCo said there were 27 strikes at Blairmont, 17 at Albion/Port Mourant and six at Uitvlugt Estate. The loss of mandays were 7,555 at Albion, 4,959 at Blairmont and 1,354 at Uitvlugt.

But Narine countered that saying the corporation is just trying to find a “scapegoat” to blame for its troubles, explaining that his union had already predicted a shortfall in production. He said the situation also seems to have gone from bad to worse, even when sugar factories have been closed and thousands of workers have already been sent home.

“It is GuySuCo’s way of trying to cover up their own mismanagement. They need to look at their management structure and how they manage the sugar industry. They are failing to say to people that the managers are incapable of ensuring that these targets are met and that there is a lack of vision for the industry. That’s the truth of the matter,” Narine added.

He argued that even with a loss of 7,000 mandays as in the case for one estate, with a membership of over 700 people working directly in the industry, some estates have failed to even meet production of 1000 tonnes of sugar in a single day.

GAWU had said that with a short time remaining before the second crop commences, the industry requires about $1 billion to meet wages and salaries’ expenditures, while additional monies are required to meet other operational expenses.

GuySuCo has already stated that if the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) does not deliver on its commitment to disburse $750 million, in addition to $25 million it already received, then there is a strong likelihood that the entire annual production target could be affected.

During last year, the corporation blamed problems with factories as the basis for suffering from a major shortfall in its production.

Since 2015, GuySuCo has been reduced to three estates, with the coalition government insisting that seven estates were proving a major problem for the national treasury. Targets have dropped from over 200,000 tonnes to about 100,000 tonnes now annually and even this target is yet to be achieved.