In only one year, the sugar sector in Guyana has experienced a massive restructuring and downsizing with the closure of four sugar estates and the loss of close to 7,000 jobs; numbers that must be compared with the recent eight operational estates operational and some 17,000 jobs in the state-owned and state-run Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo). GuySuCo has a total control over the processing of sugar cane, and an overwhelming 92 percent ownership of cane lands.
As Komal Chand, president of the Guyana Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (GAWU) tells us, notwithstanding the economic, social, political, historical and cultural relevance of sugar in Guyana, it is perplexing that now state agencies in charge of sugar appear now to be at odds with one another.
The government that came into power in 2015 transferred the responsibility of running GuySuco to the Special Purpose Unit (SPU), an agency in charge of restructuring and divesting the sugar company. However, in mid-May GuySuCo management have publicly alleged that there is a “sabotage” of the “company’s agenda from sources within,” asking the government to intervene. Local media have pointed to some areas of the SPU as the source for such action against GuySuCo. For sugar and the workers, it seems to be the traditional “adding insult to injury.”
On 10 May, the IUF General Secretariat wrote to Guyana’s President David Granger stating that “we cannot fail to express our view that very little thought has been given to address the well-being and welfare of the thousands who have been affected”. The GAWU and the National Association of Agricultural Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), which represent sugar workers are members of the IUF.
The IUF Executive Committee meeting on 8-9 May in Geneva, passed a solidarity resolution with the Guyanese sugar workers where they say:
“We were dismayed to learn that some workers received half of their redundancy entitlements and there are dismissed sugar workers who have received no redundancy pay at all. This runs contrary to Guyana’s law and is wholly unacceptable. We call on the Government of Guyana to (1) put in place systems and measures to alleviate the harsh realities that thousands of Guyanese face flowing from the closure of sugar estates. (2) respect the country’s law and pay the workers their rightful entitlements.”
These two documents were written before the apparent wrangling between GuySuCo management and the SPU… History proved us right.