Sugar workers continue to protest

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Sugar workers joined by housewives, business persons, students, pensioners took part in a spirited march from the vicinity of Rose Hall Estate to the Sheet Anchor Turn and back to the Estate Tuesday morning, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) has reported.

GAWU said in a release that the demonstration is a show of the “people’s strong opposition to the plan by the Government and the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) to close Rose Hall Estate at year-end.”

According to GAWU, the Administration’s plans for sugar have triggered off a spate of protests in the sugar belt as workers fathom the dire consequences of closure as painfully shown recently with the closure of Wales Estate. During the march, despite the threatening rain, the protestors carried a number of placards including “Upturn the decision to close Rose Hall Estate”, “We would be sunk into poverty after closure”, “APNU/AFC Govt betray sugar workers”, and “Closure of RH Estate is a political act”.

And, as they marched the gathering got bigger and people joined it along the way and it is estimated that it reached over 2,500 persons. The protestors were addressed by, among others, GAWU General Secretary, Seepaul Narine; GAWU Vice President, Harvey Tambron, and three (3) sugar workers.

The speakers condemned the plan for the closure which they visualized would bring grave suffering. They encouraged those present to continue to put up a fight and called on the Administration to listen to the cries of people and abandon their shortsighted plans for sugar. Among the large gathering were Regional Chairman David Armogan and Member of Parliament, Dr Vishwa Mahadeo.

Rose Hall Estate, according to data from GuySuCo, employs some 2,300 workers and assuming a family size of four (4), about 10,000 persons or 1.4 per cent of the country’s population will be directly impacted by the closure decision.

Also on Tuesday morning, workers of Albion staged a picketing exercise outside of the Estate to demonstrate their strong disagreement with plans to miniaturize the sugar industry. The workers are very much concerned over the grave difficulties that will beset thousands of Guyanese who stand to be affected by the plans for sugar. The Albion contingent stands in solidarity with their colleagues of Skeldon, Rose Hall and Enmore/LBI Estates who are threatened with closure and sell-out, GAWU said.

Only last week government unveiled its State Paper on sugar, noting that the industry here lies in a smaller sector, with reduced losses and cash deficits but coupled with a separate and profitable diversified enterprise, which would ensure a viable future. Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said the ‘State Paper on the Future of the Sugar Industry’, will focus on the poorly-performing estates and have them shift from sugar to diversification.

“The proposed courses of action are to amalgamate [merge] Wales Estate with Uitvlugt Estate and reassign its cane to the Uitvlugt factory, since the estate is operating at 50 percent capacity. Sixty percent of its drainage and irrigation infrastructure is in a dilapidated condition. The corporation furthermore seeks to divest itself of the Skeldon Estate. The estates of Albion and Rose Hall are to be amalgamated and the factory at Rose Hall is to be closed.”

Holder said GuySuCo would then consist of three estates and three sugar factories. The estates would be Blairmont on the West Bank Berbice, Albion-Rose Hall in East Berbice and the Uitvlugt-Wales estate in West Demerara. The three estates will be complete with factories and will have cane supplied from all five locations.

By virtue of the amalgamation, the Enmore, East Coast Demerara (ECD) and Rose Hall, Berbice factories will be closed by year-end. In the case of Enmore, that factory will be closed at the end of the year when all cane would have been harvested and the East Coast Estates would be earmarked for diversification.

“The process will result in improving the relationship with some cane cutters, estate staff and about 1,710 private cane farmers. These adjustments mean that GuySuCo would be scaled-down into a more efficient entity that focuses on producing sugar to satisfy the domestic and foreign markets that provide preferential access to our sugar. This entails taking advantage of the opportunity to merge better performing lands to operate factories more efficiently,” Holder said.

But even as there will be a major restructuring of the industry, GuySuCo is required to retain many of its workers for all operations on the merged estates or factories and those employees are to receive leased lands from the sugar company to engage in crops to be decided by both GuySuCo and the Ministry of Agriculture. Additionally, the Minister said GuySuCo plans, apart from restructuring the estates and factories, to transfer to the state charges for the drainage and irrigation and health services that it provides to the communities, and around the estates.