Supporting the Guyanese sugar workers unions of GAWU and NAACIE and organizational drives by the Belize Workers’ Union (BWU) were two main decisions of the recently constituted Caribbean Sugar Workers’ Alliance launched at a meeting held in Antigua (May 30-31).
As it has been reported on this site, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) are involved in a crucial struggle to keep the Guyanese sugar industry afloat while defending workers’ rights. The Guyana government recently disclosed a plan to reduce the sector to three mills (out of seven) and to five cane growing operations. The proposal calls for the closure of three factories and the amalgamation of four estates in two new companies. Additionally, the plan includes divesting Skeldon, the country’s newest and largest mill. The destruction of jobs and the negative impact on rural Guyana are a main concern for the unions.
In the case of the BWU, the union is facing opposition by the employer to their drive to recruit the hourly-paid maintenance employees at the Belize Co-Generation Energy Limited (Belcogen), a facility located next to the sugar mill that is owned by Belcogen’s sister company, the Belize Sugar Industries Ltd. (BSIL). The ASR Group, the world’s largest cane refiner, holds a majority stake at BSIL. The case has been referred to the National Tripartite Body.
The sugar component of the Antigua meeting also discussed the current situation and outlook for the English-speaking Caribbean sugar producers, exploring market changes that are expected on 1 October, when the European Union ends the domestic sugar production quotas. The move will liberalise the EU sweetener market – including isoglucose or corn syrup –, will open new avenues for imported sugar and may encourage an increase in EU sugar production accompanied by a corresponding increase in EU exports. The changes happen in a EU-27 (with the Brexit process to begin shortly) that has evolved into a complex sugar scenario, where beet sugar combines with refined cane sugar and sugar beet-based ethanol; and factories that, sometimes, combine production of beet sugar with refining raw cane sugar. Part of this new scenario, coupled by an overview on the differentiation process among the ACP countries, was explored in a presentation by the IUF Global Sugar and Palm Oil Coordinator.
Participants recommended the alliance to work on a fluid and reliable exchange of information on working conditions and employment practices, to develop training activities and to establish a strong regional coordination. This alliance is a two-prong approach, with similar efforts with HRTC workers.
Twenty-one delegates participated in the meeting that was hosted by the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) and had contributions by the IUF general secretary and ABWU national leaders.