“Sugar workers should not allow themselves to be used”- Prime Minister

DPI/GINA, Thursday, June 8, 2017

Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo is calling on the Guyana Agricultural Worker’s Union (GAWU) to play a more active role to help sugar workers and not politicize the sugar issue.

The Prime Minister is urging GAWU’s General Secretary, Komal Chand, to approach the industry in a “patriotic and positive way” to bring resolution to sugar’s woes and more importantly secure the worker’s livelihood.

“He should not be looking at union dues as the only rationale for the existence of GAWU but to take a very active role in putting forward suggestions on how we can help the sugar workers and how the diversification could take place in order to save as many jobs as we can,” PM Nagamootoo stated.

The Prime Minister wants GAWU to work with the government to ensure that the country has “not only a sugar industry that will be profitable but also an agro based industry that will ensure food security for Guyana”.

The PM, who is currently performing the functions of President, made the request, following questions from local media on Wednesday evening.

The government has injected some $32B into the sugar industry over the last two years.  Despite this injection, sugar production continues to be low. Production in 2016 fell by 18.7 percent and foreign exchange earned by the crop declined 15 per cent.

Almost daily, GAWU is leading sugar workers in protest action against the government’s plan to amalgamate factories and estates in the industry. In May, the Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder laid a White Paper before the National Assembly which proposes downsizing the sugar industry to make it more efficient and viable.

The document calls for linking the Wales and the Uitvlugt Estates, and Albion with Rose Hall Estates. The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) is expected to divest the Skeldon Estate and the Rose Hall factory will be closed. The end result will see GUYSUCO consisting of three estates and sugar factors. The estates, complete with factories, would be Blairmont in West Bank Berbice, Albion-Rose Hall in East Berbice and the Uitvlugt-Wales estate in West Demerara.

There are in excess of 16,000 workers in the sugar industry and the White Paper proposes retaining “as many workers” as needed for all operations on the merged estates and factories.

Additionally, employees are to be leased land by GUYSUCO to engage in agricultural production. The Prime Minister charged GAWU not to politicise the matter and use the White Paper to develop workable solutions for the sugar workers benefit. “I believe that the sugar workers should not allow themselves to be used,” PM Nagamootoo said adding, “GAWU has an ample opportunity to deal and discuss with the issue of the sugar industry.”

The Prime Minister pointed out that the problem of the sugar industry is not new and was “exacerbated during the time of the PPP. The sugar industry has been a millstone around the necks of Guyanese.”

However, the government is still hopeful that the sugar industry will pull through with the proposed measures outlined in the White Paper. “I want to make it very clear that the sugar industry is not dying. We are trying to put in place the formula, the mechanism for the survival of sugar in Guyana,” PM Nagamootoo emphasised.

 

By: Tiffny Rhodius

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