Good life minus our sugar workers equals catastrophe

first_imgDear Editor,The sugar industry provides significant employment, and, in spite of the challenges it faces, accounts for a large amount of our country’s foreign exchange earnings. Right up to May 2015, when the PPP/C Government demitted office, approximately 100,000 Guyanese were directly and indirectly dependent on the industry for their livelihood. As a concerned Government, the PPP/C considered the significance of the industry from a social and economic perspective; the ultimate effect on the Guyanese populace of the loss of earnings of dismissed sugar workers; and the considerable reduction in spending by these workers on consumer goods and services, provided in large measure by small- and medium-sized businesses that rely on the support of the sugar workers. That is why we worked with GuySuCo, the sugar workers’ unions GAWU and NAACIE, and the workers themselves to address the challenges of high production cost and to revive the fortunes of the sugar industry.We did provide financial and other forms of support to the sector, for we had determined that sugar was — and indeed still is — a sustainable business in Guyana.We overtly, then and even now, declared our opposition to the closure, privatization, or downsizing of the sugar estates.Conversely, the APNU/AFC Government refuses to engage the PPP/C and the unions in any meaningful discussions on the way forward for the sugar industry. So much for workers’ representation and the APNU/AFC Government’s respect for trade unions and the workers they represent.The Government has set up a $52M commission of inquiry into the performance of the sugar industry. The commission’s work and report do not reflect the views or recommendations of the Opposition PPP/C or the sugar workers’ unions. To the contrary, the Commission recommends , inter alia, that GuySuCo be privatized over a period of three years; that some lands be diversified to fish farming; that 4 of the 7 factories, viz: Enmore, Wales, Rose Hall and Skeldon, be closed. The Report is very much influenced by political considerations and is obviously designed to hasten the end of the sugar industry by privatizing some of the assets. The Government, major shareholder in GuySuCo, is obviously oblivious to the plight of the sugar workers. So much for the good life for sugar workers; they were apparently never meant to be beneficiaries.For decades, sugar supported and kept Guyana alive through the sugar levy. Indeed, there was a time when the payment of salaries of public servants, teachers, nurses, police, army etc. depended on GuySuCo. We must never forget this, or allow those with their own political axe to grind to cause us to forget this fact. We all benefit from sugar, and any investment in sugar will help the industry to return to viability and will provide more finances for the Treasury.Officials of GuySuCo have said they have a plan to ensure that workers who are displaced by Government’s announced closure of the sugar estates would be redeployed. The Government is yet to provide details of this plan. Neither the workers at the estates, nor their unions, nor the People’s Progressive Party have any trust or confidence in these empty promises of the APNU/ AFC Government. There is no clarity with respect to the options the APNU/AFC Government is examining, but political considerations seem to be taking precedence over social and economic considerations.What does the closure of four of the estates – Wales, Enmore, Rose Hall and Skeldon – mean for the retrenched workers, their families, their communities, their regions and the country? What is the alternate livelihood of the retrenched/dismissed workers?How would loss-of-income impact the lives of the retrenched workers, their families, small businesses such as grocers, hardware stores, furniture stores, hire car owners/drivers who depend primarily on sugar workers to buy their goods and services? How will workers fund payment for water, electricity, telephone and other utility services? What about transportation for children to go to school, medical expenses, those who have loans to repay, including mortgages? Or is it that the Government is unconcerned?The sugar workers of Guyana face an uncertain future, due to the reckless and irresponsible decision of the APNU/AFC Government to close several sugar estates and to privatize the Skeldon Estate. This will certainly add to our present economic woes, moreso as opportunities for alternative employment in the public and private sectors — and even for self-employment — scarcely exist.One would have thought that the Government would cull from the experience at Wales, where gloom has overtaken once-thriving communities concomitant with the closure of the Wales Sugar Estate. Government obviously has not done any social impact assessment, and consequently has no plan to address the issue of redeployment of workers of closed sugar estates.Government must not abandon 18,000 workers, but must work with the Opposition and the sugar unions to save the industry. Government must revisit its decision on the way forward for sugar, moreso in the light of the declining performance of our country’s economy.Sincerely,Norman Whittakerlast_img

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