In wake of threats from the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union that sugar workers could once again go on strike for increased wages, the Government of Guyana is urging the workers to remain on the job and partner with the government in rebuilding and saving the sugar industry.
In a statement from Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, the sugar workers and their unions were asked to “help in rescuing the industry, which for the first time in years, has reached and surpassed weekly targets.”
“The Government encourages sugar workers to remain committed to their jobs and, with the holiday season approaching, to earn as much as they can before the current crop comes to an end”, the statement said.
The administration has expressed its concern over the agitation, mainly by GAWU, for workers to engage in strike action. The government said the move is “disturbing”.
GAWU has been pressing the Guyana Sugar Corporation to begin negotiations for salary increases for workers, but the sugar corporation has put a hold on those negotiations in wake of the completion of a Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry. That Commission was recently completed and the government and Guysuco are both studying the report.
Guysuco believes it would not have been wise for negotiations to be taking place during the Commission.
The government in its statement on Friday said any more strike action at this stage could cripple operations and close down the sugar industry.
“This is especially alarming and regrettable now that efforts are being made to breathe life into the industry. Government has been looking at all options to revive the industry, which was placed in a state of bankruptcy and almost total ruin by the former government”.
The Prime Minister’s statement reminded that under the former regime, the sugar industry never came close to realizing the promised 500,000 tonnes target and that between 2009 and 2015, GuySuCo not only failed to make a profit but suffered estimated total losses of $67.8 billion.
“When the last administration left office, GuySuCo’s debt burden stood at $82 BILLION. It is therefore irrefutable that under that administration, GuySuCo had lost its way. It is for this reason that the Coalition Government supported a Commission of Inquiry into the sugar industry. The interim report has confirmed the poor and declining state of GuySuCo as a result of political interference, poor management and squandermania”, the statement said.
The coalition government has laid out a 10-year road map for a turn around of the industry but confesses that it needs the workers and the union to also play their part.
The statement said that “after a mere five months in office, the Coalition Government is seeking to put a Ten Year Road Map and Action Plan in place, aimed at returning the industry to viability. It would therefore be ill-advised and indeed premature to commence wages talks before this plan is considered.”
The government is also convinced that the move to call another round of strike action is political. GAWU is closely linked to the Opposition, People’s Progressive Party and the party enjoys widespread support in the sugar-producing areas.
Just this past week, PPP Member of Parliament and Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira told reporters that it doesn’t matter whether the issue is political or not, but the government currently in power must find answers.
The government said “unions that seek to drag the sugar corporation to the table to do so are obviously pursuing a political agenda which unfortunately is not in the interest of sugar workers.”
“The Government has, for the first time, allowed management to run GuySuCo independently and to make into a top priority a lasting solution to secure employment and also to make the industry profitable. $82 BILLION DEBT LOAD Due to its virtual insolvent status under the former regime, taxpayers were forced to dole out $28 BILLION in the last five years alone (2011 – 2015) to keep the sugar industry afloat”, the statement from the Government noted.
It added that with its debt load of $82 BILLION and an expected $5 BILLION needed for capital investment together with anticipated further bailout in 2016, any strike action in the industry would bring sugar finally to its knees.
“Government appeals for the understanding and the full cooperation of all sugar workers at this time of great peril to ensure that production targets continue to be met”.
The government maintains that blame for the state of the industry should not be thrown in its direction since it has only been in government for six months.
The release said any industrial action at this time will place the industry into further jeopardy.