The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) responded on 17 February to an invitation by the government to submit recommendations regarding the government proposed restructuring and the future of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).
The GAWU document comments on the government proposals disputing the wisdom of “non-sugar diversification” programs which basically call for workers to become farmers because the significant challenges (and changes) implied by a massive transformation of wage-labourers into small-scale farmers, even when a proportion of sugar workers cultivate their own small plots of land. The union also opposes the proposed closure of the Rose Hall and East Demerara Estates, especially in the absence of any study on the impact of such decision. The same is a concern in the case of the divestment of Skeldon, the country’s newest and largest mill and a USD 200 million investment.
GAWU concerns are on developing a sustainable model, with the sector moving away from raw sugar to producing “direct consumption sugars and other products,” which also means becoming a “sugar cane -based industry” instead of only being a “sugar-based” operation. In the process, some tasks include identifying inefficiencies to improve operations and reduce costs; implementing the best agricultural practices, and the mechanisation of some farms operations, which the union supports in line with labour attrition.
A “sugar cane-based” industry utilises the whole cane plant as input in a diversified production, (e.g. cogeneration) and, also, develops value-added products like Direct Consumption Brown Sugar, Bulk Alcohol, Fuel Alcohol, Direct Consumption Dark Brown Sugar, and Direct Consumption Molasses. Financial resources can be raised through the sale of lands in combination with government support to resolve GuySuCo’s “short-term indebtedness, finance its critical capital expenditure, and increase working capital.” GAWU doesn’t shy from mentioning the “injection of private capital through joint venture projects as well as concessional loans.” A key political aspect is the government support in respond to “the broader social and economic implications” of sugar, instead limiting itself to the “narrow financial parameters” used by GuySuCo.
Privatisation is a key programmatic and politically-charged issue in the discussion about GuySuCo. It is not surprising because the corporation controls close to 90 percent of the land under cane and all sugar manufacturing. The union believes privatisation is not in the interest of all Guyanese, stressing instead the lack of managerial skills. (Nonetheless, based on media reports, it seems that some government quarters favour privatisation of key estates, along with the closure of others as stated previously.)
GAWU strongly recommends studying the impact of the proposed options and whether they can lead to a sustainable future for sugar conceding, at the same time, the need for the sector to “change in (its) outlook.” Given the influence that sugar and GuySuCo have in the country, this warning should have been considered well before launching the process: Wales has already been closed; the workers’ situation there and in other places is unclear; privatisations rumours abound, etc.
In some Caribbean countries, a region where Guyana is listed even when it is in the South American continent, some sugar restructuring processes, including the closure of industries, appeared as to have been followed (not preceded!) by researching alternative options. In other cases, like the closure of Trinidad’s Caroni (1975) Ltd. in 2013, former workers are still awaiting the delivery of the full severance package promised 14 years ago. Guyana must avoid these risks: GAWU says already that proposals for Wales Estate “remain at a standstill and thousands (of workers) are affected.”
GAWU’s presentation, unfortunately, does not deal with the labour situation in GuySuCo (e.g. causes for workers’ absenteeism and the number of “spontaneous” strikes) or the impact on the population of any of the proposed alternatives, including the estates’ closure. The sugar unions (the GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial & Industrial Employees – NAACIE) ought to demand from the government and GuySuCo a serious analysis of the impact and feasibility of any restructuring including, for instance, demographics of workers and their families, present education levels, and the availability of skills required by any new investment.
This GuySuCo process affects the country’s entire social configuration and its economic opportunities. GAWU presentation to goverment on GuySuCo future – 2017-02-17Sugar in Guyana provides some 15,000 direct jobs, and those workers can be responsible for the wellbeing of about 70,000 Guyanese, close to 10 percent of the country’s total population (800,000 in 2012).
- Background information: Commentary on Guyana: Whither are thou GuySuCo?
Commentary: Trinidad: Caroni workers still waiting for their complete severance package… ten years later at http://www.iuf.org/sugarworkers/commentary-trinidad-caroni-workers-still-waiting-for-their-complete-severance-package-ten-years-later/