Jagdeo placed thousands of bauxite workers, bringing economic dislocation and depression to them, their families and communities

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Dear Editor:

RESPONSE is being made to GAWU General-Secretary Seepaul Narine’s letter, “The GAWU has considered the response of our trade union colleague, Mr. Lincoln Lewis” (KN 18th Jan, 2020).

Let me state from the outset that there was no need to clarify my statement on the government’s handling of sugar (KN 12th Jan, 2020: Is GuySuCo’s management attempting to embarrass the gov’t. by refusing to bargain with the unions?). My position was stated clearly and restated as reminder of what was said (KN 17th Jan, 2020:  I stand by my position that Bharrat Jagdeo has failed the sugar workers, their families and communities). Seepaul sought to deliberately misrepresent same and having this pointed out is pretending I “clarified.” Nonsense.

Sugar is a very serious matter and I refuse to be distracted by alleged utterances of Khemraj Ramjattan or others when under review is the stewardship of Bharrat Jagdeo, as President and Leader of the Opposition, in the handling of this industry and treating with the welfare of these workers and their communities.

GAWU is well aware that my position on respecting the right to collective bargaining where a trade union exists is loud and long-standing, regardless of which group is in office or union affected. Equally, it knows I have had no qualms calling out any government for transgressing the rights of workers as outlined in the Constitution, laws and international conventions. All of these are matters of public record. With regard to the matter of Termination and Severance benefit for sugar workers, both the Jagdeo government and APNU+AFC have flouted the law and both attracted my condemnation.

While Seepaul claims he holds no brief for Jagdeo but entered into a litany of claims to give the impression that sugar was prudently managed during his stewardship as president, evidence does not support this. Under his leadership GuySuCo have had to rely increasingly on the Consolidated Fund to keep it afloat. This is the most basic of evidence to start from.  To argue otherwise in the face of the hard, cold fact is advancing a brief for someone whose record cannot withstand scrutiny.

As to the viability of Skeldon, Kaieteur News of 29th March, 2013, reports:- “The US$200M Skeldon Sugar Factory built as part of government’s plan to reverse the sorrowful state of the country’s sugar industry is a letdown, says Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat (US$200M Skeldon Sugar Factory seen as a letdown). Trade unionists hate to see the loss of jobs, especially when opportunities for re-hiring and capacity building are limited. But the question to be asked is: What has Jagdeo done to address these on behalf of the very workers whose votes he relies on and courts?

I could tell sugar workers what Desmond Hoyte and Robert Corbin did as Leaders of the Opposition when President Jagdeo placed thousands of bauxite workers on the breadline, bringing economic dislocation and depression to them, their  families and communities.

Seepaul’s perception that there is stubbornness on the part of the coalition administration to deal with issues, is not unlike the position of Jagdeo as President, which didn’t serve the working class well then as it won’t now. This reinforced my principle that silence and selective involvement when it comes to some workers’ welfare, hurts the welfare of all workers. Jagdeo as President succeeded in dividing the working class and a culture has been created where trade union solidarity no longer rules the day, but partisanship.

I reiterate my position that were Jagdeo serious about the welfare of sugar workers, he could have done more. As recent as last month the Minister of Finance “stressed that the union must sit with management to come up with a deal for satisfactory pay packages” (SN-Dec 6, 2019: Granger, Jagdeo differ on way ahead for sugar). Shortly after GuySuCo’s Chief Industrial Relations Manager Deodat Sukhu, said, “the cash-strapped corporation does not have the revenue or cash flow to pay workers the requested increase” (SN- 9th Dec, 2019- GAWU hopeful of wage hike offer from gov’t).

Jagdeo could have held GuySuCo’s feet to the fire for not taking note of the minister’s statement. He knows GuySuCo’s ability to pay the increase may rely on the minister who has responsibility for NICIL, the agency in which the company’s shares are vested. He could also have sought an engagement with the minister to ensure the management and sugar unions sit at the table. Cheddi Jagan would have done it, but he did neither!

Jagan not only relied on the political support of these workers, he fought for their welfare as Leader of the Opposition and President, and never missed any opportunity to advance same. Let Jagdeo tell the sugar workers and this nation why he refused to use his political privilege and muscle to work with the minister, GuySuco and GAWU to ensure collective bargaining and arriving at “a deal for satisfactory pay packages” last year.

These are the same workers as he seeks their votes, in this election cycle, he is promising a plan to improve their conditions of work and standard of living. Shouldn’t that plan also include working with the government as Leader of the Opposition to bring the economic relief they seek?  He continues to fail sugar workers, their families and communities.

Regards
Lincoln Lewis