The bitter struggle is unending

first_imgDear Editor,The lives of sugar workers have always been a devastating struggle to adequately feed, clothe and house their families. This is well documented in our history. This daily struggle has gotten more intense since this coalition Government took office in May 2015, more than three and a half year ago. Thousands of sugar workers have been converted to beggars whilst the remainder is living under great insecurity and on a hand-to-mouth basis. The bitter struggle is unending!In the 1960s, there ensued a harsh struggle for better conditions and wages for sugar workers, but along the way until 1976, they achieved notable gains in hours of work, housing and wages. Unfortunately, those gains were severely compromised during the 28 years of PNC dictatorship rule which saw every aspect of Guyanese lives being systematically destroyed when even access to food became a criminal act! It was produce and yet perish in those days! The 2015 Commission of Inquiry confirmed this.The CoI identified 31 ‘issues and needs’ and blamed ‘higher than anticipated wage increase’ as one of these. A few pages later, it shortlisted 11 ‘main issues’ which led to the ‘poor and unacceptable state of GuySuCo’ and at number five blamed GAWU for ‘unrelenting’ demands for wage increases. Yet a few pages later the CoI concluded that, ‘the current earnings of sugar workers compare favorably with other categories of workers in Guyana. This observation in no way negates recognition of the difficult and challenging conditions which field workers face’. This is in direct contradiction to the impression given earlier which had suggested that the sugar workers were overpaid due to the ‘unrelenting’ demands by GAWU! I challenge those who feel that sugar workers are overpaid to spend just one day as a cane-harvester!The indisputable fact is that a strong cane-harvester will need to work the entire week to take home $40,000 and this ‘high’ earning will only last for the duration of the crop. In its entirety the crop period in GuySuCo is approximately eight months or 32 weeks. For approximately 20 weeks, the average sugar worker will earn less than $10,000 per week; this may be more due to the unavailability of work for various reasons. This is not a very healthy financial position and normally results in a continuous cycle of borrowing and debts. This cycle of poverty hardly ends yet more than 7,000 workers were callously kicked out of their jobs and converted into mendicants. But one year and $30 billion later the closed estates are yet to be privatised! I am sure 2020 will overtake this privatisation process and in the meantime more sugar workers may be thrown onto the breadline.This year the production target of 104,451 tonnes will be realised with the well-managed flagship Albion Estate achieving more than 56 per cent of the Company’s target, greatly surpassing its own of 56,000 tonnes! But what will the sugar workers receive? GuySuCo has said in a press statement that a bonus will be paid if the target is achieved, ‘the value of which is dependent on the final production’. I am sure the coalition Government is aware of this, yet no provision was made in the 2019 budget to give these workers even a paltry wage increase. Now that the industry has shown progress, it is the Government which must assist GuySuCo on its onward journey to prosperity and ensuring that the current sugar workers receive a much-needed increase in their wages and salaries.No doubt GuySuCo is a loss-making entity, but so are other public enterprises which are monopolies. The Finance Minister confirmed this growing trend in this 2019 Budget presentation. However, the Government continues to be magnanimous to them. Two most notable loss-making monopolies are Guyana Power and Light and the Guyana Oil Company. All workers in the public entities have gotten wage increases year after year despite their poor and declining performances. In addition, in 2016, the public servants earning less than $500,000 per month received a bonus of $25,000 per month. This year, public servants will once again receive between 5-7 per cent increases with the retroactive payments this time being tax-free.The Finance Minister could have created the fiscal space by trimming the excess ‘fat’ in the Budget to at least give sugar workers a wage 5 per cent increase since he knew that they have performed exceedingly well despite receiving no wage increases for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. It must be borne in mind that they were even denied any Annual Production Incentives and many benefits were snatched from them during those years.In June 2016, the erstwhile ‘champion’ of the sugar workers, Moses Nagamootoo saluted the ‘Enmore Five’ and mentioned the ‘long history of struggles for better working and living conditions’ and concluded that they ‘did not die in vain’ but this hypocritical utterance cannot mask his self-preserving loyalty to his masters by not only remaining silent but has embarking on a litany of vitriolic against them, such as calling them ‘raiders of the Treasury’. He is in a better position to assist them but his subservience and heartlessness know no bounds!It is a season of goodwill and joy and it is my fervent desire is that the current sugar workers and the dismissed ones are treated fairly and justly. This coalition Government has now forgotten the dismissed sugar workers. I exhort all fair-minded Guyanese to ‘light a candle’ and pray for them!Yours sincerely,Haseef YusufRDC CouncilorRegion 6last_img

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