September 30, 2016

Sugar workers at Wales are collateral damage in APNU’s vindictiveness

The President, in a good example of “mouth open, story jump out”, confesses that there is no plan yet for Wales workers and their families, the factory and the abandoned land. He asserted that the Minister of Agriculture and GuySuCo are supposed to have a plan and are yet to share it with him. We should all be shocked at this confession. How was a plan to close Wales approved without any plan to deal with the workers, their families and their communities? This is an example of how dysfunctional and reckless APNU/AFC is as a government.
The closure of Wales Sugar Estate is not just a betrayal of Guyanese sugar workers, it is an ugly example of the vindictiveness of APNU/AFC. Upset that sugar workers remain solidly in support of the PPP, APNU/AFC made a rash decision to close Wales, dismissing 2500 sugar workers and cane farmers and punishing thousands of people who depended on Wales for a living. Wales workers earned $2 billion per year and this means a fatal blow to the region’s economy. It also deprives Guyana of about 20,000 tonnes of sugar per year.
The truth is GuySuCo had no plan to close Wales. In fact, much investment and preparations were ongoing to upgrade cane cultivation and sugar production at Wales, such as investments to plough 1500 acres and replant another 700 acres to provide cane for the factory at least through 2020, paal off the factory at considerable expense, install a new drainage pump, excavate most of the sidelines and desilt all kokers, rehabilitate the all-weather road and dams, and prepare a previously abandoned area at YR 38-41 for new cultivation.
Wales factory is crushing at 98 tonnes per hour, close to its maximum designed capacity of 102 tonnes because recent investment to replace vital components has contributed to maintaining efficiency. Cane knives, mills, boilers, evaporators, pans and the baskets are as good as those in other factories. Clearly, APNU/AFC lied when they stated that GuySuCo had made the decision to close Wales because the factory can no longer be maintained.
Initially, APNU/AFC tried to blame the Commission of Inquiry. But the CoI made no such recommendation. If it was true that GuySuCo actually planned the closure, then those who were responsible for considerable investment in Wales, knowing it would be closed, should be fired. It is reckless to plan the closure of an estate and then invest such large sums of money for long-term development.
But GuySuCo is simply carrying out instructions. Wales is just the beginning and this Government intends to close sugar totally, a legacy Nagamootoo and Ramjattan promised in exchange for big Government positions when they absorbed AFC into APNU. The closure of Wales is only one of the instructions that GuySuCo is forced to carry out in the face of a government heaping insults and burdens on innocent workers in its obsession to punish Jagdeo and the PPP.
GuySuCo, following instructions from APNU/AFC, denied sugar workers any wage increase in 2015, the first time that a wage increase has been denied for more than 30 years. To this day, GuySuCo is dodging the workers and their unions. Recall also that GuySuCo has been denying workers their Annual Production Incentive (API), for the first time since 1976 when GAWU became the workers’ recognised union. GuySuCo is legally obligated to pay the API under binding agreement with the workers and national and international laws. Word is now that GuySuCo will pay an arbitrary 2.72 days pay on April 1st for the 2015 API, a fraction of what the workers earned.
The sugar workers have a history of militancy; our independence is largely one tied with sugar workers’ militancy. They have predictably rebelled by taking strike action one day per week, as a reasonable response to both permit the industry to maintain production while demonstrating that they will not be intimidated. GuySuCo response, as instructed by APNU/AFC, is that if the workers persist with their strike action, they will prematurely end the crop.
I know that APNU/AFC and particularly Nagamootoo and Ramjattan would insist that they have given no such instructions to GuySuCo. If no such instruction emanated from APNU/AFC, then Nagamootoo and Ramjattan should join with the workers and reject GuySuCo’s position. Between 1976 and 1996, GuySuCo contributed $60 billion to Government and their reward is that Nagamootoo and Ramjattan today have joined APNU to kill the industry.
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