Good sense prevailed in the sugar workers’ struggle for better wages

Dear Editor:
GAWU’s General-Secretary Seepaul Narine is being advised that more pressing issues prevented a response earlier to his letter, “Lincoln, indeed these, as you put it, are …the hard, cold facts” (KN, Jan 29, 2020). The central issue of this discussion on sugar (GuySuCo), including the well-being of the workers and their communities, had to do with the role being played by our political operatives, namely the government and opposition.
Whereas it was made known it cannot be said that the government did a stellar job in handling the issue but the role of the opposition — Bharrat Jagdeo as President and Leader of the Opposition — cannot be ignored, Seepaul seems discomfited by the reference to the latter.  The President and leader of the opposition are the nation’s premier political leaders and must be held to account for their performance. It was posited that President Jagdeo failed to put systems in place to ensure the industry’s viability,an estate was shuttered during his tenure, and money was squandered as with the US$200 plus million Skeldon Estate factory and European Union (EU) funding for diversification.

It was further said that the present cries of the sugar workers did not see Jagdeo, as leader of the opposition, using his political privilege and muscle to lay before the nation a plan on moving the industry forward and/or seeking engagement with the government on the workers’ welfare, including the challenges to secure pay increases over the past years. I have argued that he has let down the workers, many of whom support the PPP. This is a record Seepaul doesn’t want to honestly discuss and is seeking to mask by engaging in diversion, semantics and deception.

Whereas he feels a political obligation to circle the wagon on the PPP/Jagdeo stewardship, I hold no such obligation. There is no need on my part to try to cover up, deny or exonerate any government or opposition. I am a trade unionist not a political activist or candidate, though my trade union interest may at time address matters of deep political concern. It is unfortunate his political preference is guiding his response whilst I acknowledge same.
It is one thing to use adjectives in effort to describe my understanding of issue or to marshal additional or alternative information to refute my contention, but quite another to seek to malign me by engaging in deception. I will not tolerate it. The same nonsense was done in his initial response where he sought to misrepresent my contention that “It is not being said that the Coalition Government has done a stellar job in handling the sugar industry” (KN, Jan 12, 2019). Seepaul interpreted that to mean “We [GAWU] had to wonder where or what is this stellar job Mr Lewis speaks about” (KN, Jan 15, 2020). I corrected the misrepresentation, thinking it was an oversight, but it is evident the deception is either deliberate or designed to create public mischief. I won’t doubt it is the latter.

I never “question where it is said that the World Bank gave approval for Skeldon.” It was made known the role of the World Bank is to propose/recommend and it is left up to the country to accept. With regard to the bond issue I am fully aware of the conditions under which it was secured and contrary to Seepaul’s view, I am not “confused,” neither what I said on this matter is “not true.”

Had he valued the totality of the article he selectively quoted excerpts from, it would have been hard to ignore where it is stated:- “According to the Trust Deed signed on May 24, 2018 between NICIL and the Hand in Hand Trust Corporation Inc., ‘the net proceeds from the issue of the bonds shall be applied exclusively by the company towards financing of the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s long-term project and capital expenditure to acquire two co-generation plants to upgrade existing factories to produce plantation white sugar, to build storage and packing facilities, as well as to contribute for two years towards general ongoing operational costs’” (GuySuCo receives $7.4B from $30B bond- 4th June 2019).
General operational cost — note the two years stipulation — means all factors involved in day-to-day production. On the issue of wages, the management will be expected where there is an increase, which will become a fixed cost, to make sure a mechanism is put in place to sustain it.  The context where Seepaul is arguing the bond be used for wages is as though the money can just be taken out and go towards this without a plan which is a stipulated condition for drawing down. He wants the bond-which is investors’ money to be run the same way the PPP government managed the EU funding for diversification, which was to do whatever you want with it. It cannot happen so.

Lastly, it should be said since my last letter the media reported the sugar unions and GuySuCo management have struck an agreement for wage increases through the acceptable process of collective bargaining. Indeed, this is testimony of persistency and proof that nothing is given to workers, they have to struggle to achieve better conditions of work, regardless of which party/group is in office.

Lincoln Lewis

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