–commits to communicating grievances to gov’t
SINCE Wednesday, 1,146 canecutters attached to the Albion Sugar Estate have downed their cutlasses in demand of compensation for the dried-out canes that prevented them from reaching their minimum daily punt weight of 6.5 tonnes, based on which their daily pay is tallied.
As per existing procedure outlined by the Ministry of Labour, if the punts weigh below the stipulated minimum, workers would be required to do additional tasks to raise their pay for the day. According to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), the harvesters are not in favour of doing so this time around.
The dry canes are as a result of the 65 days of severe flooding that have affected more than 52,000 households across 300 communities, and almost crippled the estate’s operations since April-May.
“The canes deteriorated and developed adventitious roots, side shoots and tillering, which have resulted in its reduced quality. In addition to the crop canes, there are also canes that were not harvested in the first crop of 2021 because of rainfall which commenced in April 2021,” GuySuCo explained in a statement.
In a subsequent release, the sugar company appealed to its harvesters to return to the fields. They were further assured of GuySuCo’s commitment to advancing the workers’ plight to the Corporation’s main stakeholder via its Board of Directors. The entity’s chief stakeholder is the Government of Guyana.
In his appeal to workers, Chief Executive Officer of GuySuCo, Sasenarine Singh urged workers, “Let us work together to find an amicable solution to the issues.” He added, “We need every hand on board to rebuild the Estate; we do understand the issue, and are committed to finding an amicable solution. We cannot down tools at this critical junction of our industry’s recovery.”
The strike, which has since turned into a fiery protest, comes at a time when the estate is working to recover from the devastation it faced during the aforementioned floods. As a result of the disaster, the Albion Sugar Estate alone suffered in excess of $1 billion in losses.
As it is, the estate has only managed to complete four out of its 12 scheduled weeks of sugar production. Because of the floods, the estate’s weekly sugar production target was even reduced from 2,100 tonnes of sugar to 1,815 tonnes.
“In addition, this reduced target is a means to also encourage employees to work to earn additional earning through daily performance incentive and weekly production incentives,” GuySuCo said.
On Tuesday, following concerns raised by the canecutters, GuySuCo’s central executives, along with the estate’s management team, met with the field secretary of the Guyana Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU), along with cane harvesting Shop Stewards.
It was at that meeting that the corporation’s management expressed its inability to meet the workers’ demands, due to existing financial constraints. GuySuCo has since committed to “channelling the workers’ concerns to its stakeholders”.
Singh told the Guyana Chronicle on Saturday that GuySuCo will be meeting with the workers’ representatives, including GAWU, today. “It is my hope that we find an amicable solution to the challenges that the industry and all the workers are facing,” Singh assured.
In addition to the floods, the sugar industry is also recovering from the back-to-back closure of four of its estates. All things being normal, the output of the Albion Estate accounts for some 50 per cent of the industry’s overall production.