The one-day conference sponsored by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) and UNIFOR – Canada’s largest private sector union – came to the conclusion that there was no good nor rational reason for the Government’s decision to minimize the sugar industry in Guyana.
The Conference heard from GAWU’s President, Komal Chand who said that the decisions to close the estates and send home 7,000 sugar workers over the last two years is among “…the most callous of decisions ever made by any Government in our country in our over half a century of independence.”
The Conference also heard from President of UNIFOR, Jerry Dias who was very critical of the decisions to minimize the sugar industry. Dias said he could not understand why the Government took such a decision especially considering the social ramifications. The UNIFOR President said he was at a loss to understand why the Government did not pursue a social impact assessment as, he stressed, this would have provided critical information in its decision-making. He pledged that his Union will continue to work along with GAWU and lend support as he announced that his Union has provided support to GAWU to pursue training of workers in these changing times.
Representing the Government was Minister of State, Joseph Harmon who shared with attendees that he himself was a proud beneficiary of the sugar industry as he recalled the several facilities the industry provided to the community in which he lived. The Minister also quoted extensively from what President David Granger had said at his recent press conference about the sugar industry. Speaking to the outstanding severance entitles to the workers, the Minister pointed out that the Administration will honour the payments but did not share when the payment would be made. The State Minister also said that the Government was seeking to make the industry profitable to ensure its long-term sustainability and viability.
Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo in his address was very critical of the Government’s handling of the sugar industry and he pointed out that the Administration pursued the wrong course. He lamented that the Administration adamantly refused to pursue a social impact assessment which he opined would have served the Government well. The Opposition Leader said that the Administration’s approach to sugar was not guided by any studied work or consideration of the realities on the ground and he said that the GuySuCo debt was a red herring as the industry’s real short-term indebtedness stood at just about $10 billion. He also urged the Government to be transparent in its arrangements regarding the sector and urged that the workers and their organizations be meaningfully involved in charting the industry’s future.
GAWU said it believes that the Conference was a great success and served to highlight the serious difficulties and the problems the people are facing since the estates were closed.