SUGAR workers countrywide are expected to return to work today after three days of strike action, which the Minister of Agriculture has branded as political.
On Sunday sugar workers nationwide downed tools, charging that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) had failed to engage in collective bargaining with their union – Guyana Aagricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), despite conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the ailing sugar industry.
Head of GAWU, Komal Chand had announced that “the industry was closed down by workers with effect from Sunday, given GuySuCo’s continued postponement of discussions with our union on the wages’ issue for this year.” However, on Tuesday Chand said that the union was calling on workers to return to work today, adding that they had already made contact with their point persons at the various estates to urge workers to return. When asked whether or not the union met with or decided on a date to meet with GuySuCo, he said: “We have not met and talked yet, however, after resumption, with the wisdom showcased it could outline the necessity of the union and GuySuCo meeting to discuss the wages and salaries of workers.”
The GAWU boss said that over the past months, the union had urged GuySuCo to begin negotiations, given that the corporation had fixed October 7, 2015 as the date to address the union’s claims for increases in wages and adjustments to certain fringe benefits. Asked about the impact on production, Chand declared: “There was a tiny bit of workers who did not partake in the strike, nevertheless the majority had an impact on production, as I would even say it was the most effective three days strike ever recorded.”
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, in an invited comment to this newspaper, observed that “one of the problems with the sugar industry is that it has been used as a political football, resulting in the reduction in productivity over the years… and putting of square pegs in round holes by the PPP government.”
Responding to that, Chand said: “This is really laughable, for us to have the corporation engage us in negotiations before the report [COI Report] isn’t political. What is political about that?”
General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Clement Rohee, during the party’s weekly press conference on Monday declared that there is no political motivation, and the workers are merely protesting for what they think they deserve.
According to Rohee, the sugar workers have a right to demand an increase in their salaries, given that the APNU+AFC administration had just awarded itself a massive increase. “We consider it as an industrial action staged by sugar workers…. Is it not justifiable for the sugar workers to demand more money?” Rohee asked, as he pointed out that all workers who engage in industrial action must feel peeved by the recent actions taken by the administration.
However, GuySuCo said in a release on Sunday that the actions of the striking sugar workers had affected all field and factory operations, breaking the prevailing production momentum. GuySuCo noted that the union was demanding that the corporation commence wages, salaries and fringe benefits’ negotiations for 2015 but the corporation and the union had a preliminary meeting on September 16, where the corporation informed the union and the representatives from the various estates that it was unable to commence discussion before the Commission of Inquiry had submitted its findings and recommendations.