– rejects Guyana Times article about 1% offer
AFTER six years of not being able to get a salary/wage increase because of the economic turmoil in the sugar industry, sugar workers now stand a chance of getting an increase of at least five per cent.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) has proposed a five per cent increase in wages and salaries, for sugar workers, to the Guyana Agricultural and General workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE)– the unions representing those workers.
The sugar corporation’s industrial relations unit had recently engaged the unions regarding their respective proposals for wages, salaries and fringe benefits. And, the corporation has since taken note of the ‘insincere’ representations in the press statement released by GAWU carried by The Guyana Times Newspaper on February 14, 2020 titled “GAWU rejects GuySuCo’s 1% pay rise offer.”
“The GuySuCo wishes to set the record straight regarding the misleading headline and content stated in the Guyana Times. At no time did the parties discussed around a one per cent increase. The fact is, on Friday, February 7, 2020, the Corporation made an offer of 5 per cent increase in wages to the GAWU and its delegation, after which the Union’s Leadership informed the Corporation’s team that it will proceed to consult with its membership and return to the Corporation,”said GuySuCo in a press statement.
GAWU, in a response to GuySuCo, has said, in being respectful to the discussions, they have not divulged any detail regarding the corporation’s proposal.
“A proposal had been put forward and there were certain aspects which the union found agreement with and others which we disagreed with. We, therefore, are at a loss how is it that GuySuCo would seek to communicate that our union informed the public about a 1 per cent increase,” said GAWU.
According to GAWU, GuySuCo has offered a five per cent pay rise for workers engaged in piece-rated activities.
For those engaged in time-rated work, it has proposed $20 increase for those at the Band One level and $18 for those who are in Bands Two to Five. Those increases range between 5.1 to 7.8 per cent.
Apart from that, GAWU said GuySuCo has proposed that a $4,000 per month increase for monthly-paid employees, which is equivalent to a 3.9 per cent increase at the minimum level for foremen and 4.6 per cent for charge hands.
The corporation hopes to implement the new increases from January 01, this year.
“The GAWU, after consulting workers, has put to the corporation that no worker receives less than a five per cent pay increase. Importantly, the union and the workers have stressed that the increases be retroactive to January 01, 2019.
“Such stance is taken against the background that the Union and the corporation discussions regarded the GAWU’s claims for 2019 and thus any increase ought to be implemented from the beginning of that year. It was at this point that the parties ended their discussions last Wednesday (February 12, 2020),” said GAWU. The corporation also said it has been in discussions over wages and conditions with the union since September of 2019.
“Those negotiations are continuing. The objectives of the negotiations are to arrive at positions that are fair to the workforce and also which can be sustained by the industry,” said GuySuCo.
Workers across the sugar belt were last given a salary increase in 2014.
The sugar industry has, however, been going through a period of re-adjustment and modernization in a period of challenging markets for current products.
And, according to GuySuCo, the investments that are required to strengthen the industry’s competitiveness and diversify its production will require commitment and sacrifice by all its stakeholders. The A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) last Friday had committed to securing the livelihood of the 10,000 sugar workers still employed by GuySuCo as it continues its programme of restructuring the industry.
The local sugar industry has been in turmoil for years, failing to recover its cost of production and even failing to make a profit, but President of Guyana and presidential candidate of APNU+AFC, David Granger, has said that his government is restructuring the industry to save the jobs of 10,000 persons.
“We inherited a moribund industry and we are restructuring it to ensure that the jobs of those 10,000 people will be preserved…we will produce or create an industry based on 147,000 tonnes of sugar and save the jobs of the majority of the sugar workers,” said President Granger during the launch of the coalition’s manifesto, on Friday.
The APNU+AFC coalition, after being elected to office in 2015, had conducted a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the sugar industry and had published a “white paper” based on the recommendations. Subsequent to the CoI, the government had sat down, “face-to-face,” with the GAWU and made a “serious” decision, and according to President Granger, through that decision, the government was able to save the jobs of 10,000 persons.
In 2017, the APNU+AFC Administration took a decision to consolidate cultivation at the Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt Estates, all in an attempt to reduce losses and increase profitability within the sugar industry. The government had announced the closure of several sugar estates; initially the Wales sugar estate was named as the first to be closed one year after it was announced for closure.
The move by the government triggered protests led by pro-People’s Progressive Party (PPP) leaders who joined ranks with GAWU leaders on the West Demerara and later in the city. Later, several other estates in the Berbice belt were closed and these were also cited as being too costly to run. The opposition protested the move once more although the government made it clear that annual multi-billion dollar bailouts to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) were hurting the economy.
But the move by the coalition government was an undertaking which was forecast and made known to the PPP-government way back in 1996 when the “gloomy future” of the sugar industry was written in black and white. According to the draft National Development Strategy (NDS) of 1996, steps were urgently needed to be put into action and down-sizing of the industry was suggested so that its sales could have been made profitable.
“Driving past the East Bank, you will see what used to be cane is now housing and it was the PPP who shut down production in much of East Demerara…GAWU even had to take the corporation to court to get severance pay from Diamond,” said President Granger, noting that the shutting down of the sugar industry started comprehensively under the PPP, but certain parts of the industry can be saved. And, the coalition government, over the past four and a half years, has taken certain measures to ensure that the sugar industry does not sink.
The President believes that the APNU+AFC government has done ‘far more’ in terms of the “rational restructuring” of the industry than the previous administration and has not been taken to court by GAWU.
Speaking about the government’s work in the industry, the President said: “We established a strong East Berbice, West Demerara and West Berbice sugar industry…three mega estates are working and the jobs of about 10,000 harvesters have been preserved.”
Additionally, many persons, whose jobs were terminated when the estates were closed, were re-employed at other estates. “Many people in Wales have found jobs at Uitvlugt and many of them from East Canje are working at Albion…there are jobs but the turnout is about 56 per cent,” said President Granger, adding that government will continue to ensure that sugar workers are gainfully employed or have the means to sustain their own livelihood.
One such measure is the potential establishment of a State Land Resettlement Commission which will enable former sugar workers to access land for agriculture and housing. Former sugar workers from Wales have already started to access land at the former Wales Sugar Estate.