Commentary and Request for Solidarity Messages
I know the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) since 1982. It is a union who works hard on behalf of the workers in one of the country’s key economic pillars: sugar The sector is owned and run by the state under the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), with marginal contribution by private cane farmers. Production has fluctuated between 210,000-230,000 tonnes annually in the past five years, dropping from the 320,000-350,000 mark of the second half of the 1990s; summarising the critical situation of the sector and the threats to workers’ future.
There are some 17,000 people employed in GuySuCo, with 16,000 of them being GAWU members. With only 800,000 people living in Guyana, these jobs are very important for the country’s economic and social stability, not to mention the political environment. The sector’s owner and the state, which in the Guyana case are one and the same, are responsible for providing a clear direction and solid proposals for the sector’s future.
It is with great disappointment to learn that the government has proposed closing the Wales Sugar Estate at the end of 2016. More so, when unions and the local media have rightly indicated that there is no solid plan for what to do if Wales goes out of sugar. Two aspects concern the IUF global sugar workers network. Firstly, what is/would be the situation of the 1,700 workers directly employed at Wales and of their families. Secondly, what is the proposed option for an efficient use of the economic resources if Wales stops producing sugar. These questions – and others – can only be properly addressed with the meaningful participation of the sugar unions.
Guyana’s government should take a sensible way to restructure a sector that no one denies needs restructuring. But should not repeat recent Caribbean experiences. For instance, in Trinidad, former workers of Caroni (1975) Ltd. are still awaiting the complete fulfilment of all conditions offered by the “Voluntary Separation of Employment Package (VSEP) in 2003 when Caroni, also a state owned company, went out of sugar. That is thirteen years ago!
The IUF wrote the Guyana Minister of Agriculture, as the head of GuySuCo, urging a halt to the plans to close Wales and to start “full and good faith negotiations” with GAWU and NAACIE to find a solution to maintain the estate and to ensure employment. Sugar unions are encouraged to send similar messages to the minister, with copy to GAWU and the IUF. Read here the IUF letter to the Guyana Minister of Agriculture.
When sending messages, please use the following:
Minister Noel Holder,
Minister of Agriculture,
Ministry of Agriculture,
Regent & Shiv Chanderpaul Drive
Copy messages to:
- Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU): email@example.com
- IUF General Secretariat: firstname.lastname@example.org
- IUF Global Sugar Program: email@example.com
- March 10, 2016: “Save our jobs! Affiliates in Guyana fight closure of sugar estate”
- January 25, 2016: Guyana: Privatisation and Closures as GuySuCo moves forward?
- June 2008, 2013: Commentary: Trinidad: Caroni workers still waiting for their complete severance package… ten years later
 The National Association of Agricultural, Commercial & Industrial Employees (NAACIE), also and IUF affiliate, represents sugar clerical workers.