The 2016 May Day celebrations in Georgetown, Guyana ought to be considered as an historical opportunity for the country’s trade union movement and, particularly, to the unions in the sugar sector. The Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc. (GuySuCo), a state-owned and run company, that overwhelmingly dominates the country’s growing and processing of the sugar cane, has been immersed in a long production and management crisis, global market changes and inefficiency.
At the May Day rally, a resolution regarding the sugar situation was passed. We spoke about the significance of this resolution to Komal Chand, president of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), a union that represents some 15,000 sugar workers.
Question: How important is the “sugar resolution” passed at May Day politically given that this year’s May Day rally?
Answer: This was the first time in many years that the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) and the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) held a common rally. Prior to this year, the labour centrals used to hold their own rallies and marches. At this year’s rally, a resolution was unanimously approved, demonstrating the broad concern and support to the sugar industry and its workers, given the critical situation they are found nowadays. In addition, it was a relevant because of the presence of some government figures like the acting President and Prime Minister and a few Government Ministers.
The resolution calls the Government and GuySuCo “to abandon their decisions to close Wales Estate and LBI operations”? Why this call?
The first and most relevant argument is that most of the workers from Wales and La Bonne Intention (LBI) will not be able to easily find employment, much less to receive compensatory wages. Any decision of this magnitude requires a thorough social impact assessment that would identify, and possibly quantify, the implications of closing of these workplaces and operations on the workers and their families, the community and the nation at large.
At the same time, we have to recall that that Government-appointed Sugar Commission of Inquiry explicitly recommended that no estate be closed because the Commission recognized that the country’s economy could not provide jobs for workers in the event of closure. We, the unions, strongly believe that any decision to close sugar operations simplistically taken from a financial perspective is limited and dangerous. The wider impact on the social and economic fabric of the country and specific regional circumstances have to be of fundamental importance.
The sugar resolution calls for the Government not to privatize part or the whole of GuSuCo: what is the unions’ position on this?
Private owners and private ownership are fundamentally concerned with profits, while the social dimension of the industry are not their top priority. There are cases in the Caribbean, like the current situation in Jamaica, where, if certain levels of profitability are not obtained, then the owners would close operations and leave the sector.
What kind of dialogue is required as an input in the “sugar turnaround”?
The two union bodies propose that a Committee to examine the future of the industry be established. The Committee will involve the unions in the industry, the two union centrals (FITUG and the GTUC), the Ministry of Agriculture, the private sector, and GuySuCo. There needs to be a prerequisite: all decisions regarding the industry, either taken or announced, be put on hold.
In terms of organizational and future perspectives for the industry, we have to pursue some key diversification ventures, such as co-generation, sugar refining and alcohol distilling, which embody a firm move to the full use of the sugar cane, a plant with enormous potential. It is important as well, the state’s financial assistance in a defined period to support such “turnaround.” This assistance has to be seen in contrast with the industry’s contribution to the country through sugar levy, taxes and lands.
 See: May Day Resolution on the Sugar Industry at http://gawu.net/v3/2016/05/01/may-day-resolution-on-the-sugar-industry/
 See: Guyana: Closing Wales without consultation cannot be a move forward for GuySuCo at http://www.iuf.org/sugarworkers/guyana-closing-wales-like-cannot-move-forward-guysuco/ and Guyana: Privatisation and Closures as GuySuCo moves forward? at http://www.iuf.org/sugarworkers/guyana-privatisation-and-closures-as-guysuco-moves-forward/