Guyana: GAWU Reaches Wage Increase and Production Bonus

In the midst of the most severe production problems in two decades, the Guyana Agricultural and Allied Workers (GAWU) and the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) reached an agreement on wage increase on 15 November and on a production bonus on 14 December.

A four percent wage increase, retroactive to 1 January 2013, was achieved after five rounds of talks and two conciliation meetings that started on 4 June. The agreement also covers improvements in some allowances and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers. A month later, the parties reached an agreement on the Annual Production Incentive (API), equivalent to  five-days production, after a massive two-day strike. The API will be paid in two tranches, on 3 January and 14 March 2014. GAWU represents some 16,000 workers in the sugar sector.

In a statement quoted by the national media and referred to the wage demands, the Guyana Agriculture Minister said that the workers’ actions were understandable, “given that the low production figures this year were not ‘their fault’, ” adding that adverse weather is another negative factor.[1] The statement signals a complex situation in Guyana’s sugar. It is expected, for instance, that the 2013 harvest will fall short of the already readjusted target of 200,000 tonnes of sugar. At the time of writing (14 December), production was around 185,000 tonnes, with only a week left in the season that ends 21 December. Last year’s production of 218,000 tonnes was the lowest in over 20 years. And 2013 production targets had been readjusted from 260,000 to 190,000 tonnes, level that may barely be reached.

The sector is plagued by severe problems, including the failure of the brand-new and flagship Skeldon factory, which has never performed to its planned potential since its commissioning in 2009. The Skeldon factory was designed to produce over 100,000 tonnes of sugar per year, and was built at a cost that has neared USD 200 million, including the several technical repairs. Earlier this year, production targets in Skeldon had been readjusted to 34,000 tonnes, from the 2013 target of 43,000 tonnes… and far from the planned 100,000 tonnes.

A similar situation is experienced at the Enmore factory that, due to problems, has registered ongoing mechanical downtime, which translates into the carrying-over of cane from one crop to another (i.e. from the “first” to the “second” crop, which happen in the same calendar year) and from one year to the next. The Enmore factory expects to carry-over some 60,000 tonnes of cane to 2014.

An equally serious challenge is a chronic shortage of labour. A GuySuCo official quoted by a local newspaper said that the Enmore factory requires some 2,520 tonnes of cane per day, which, assuming an daily average of 2.4 tonnes of cane harvested per cane cutter, means labour requirements of 1,050 workers. However, he said, Enmore sees a daily turnover of about 500 cutters. At Skeldon, figures are 3,000 cutters required against a show-up of only 500.[2] While mechanisation is being discussed as a way forward in the sector, it should also be a major preoccupation to all involved in the sector that such level of disinterest among the Guyanese people to work in sugar might be traced to decades of poor working conditions (related also to a poor economic environment) and more recent weather-related severe difficulties that, coupled with the growth of other economic sectors, make the industry an unattractive job destination for the majority of the population.

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