Some of the striking workers
October 19 2019
Workers at Blairmont Estate have been on strike since Monday, claiming unfair treatment and calling for an increase in pay, even as the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) says the impact of the action has been “devastating” during a critical second crop period.
“The strike continues to have a devastating effect on the corporation’s output and financial position when it is already in a critical state with limited finance to pay wages and salaries,” GuySuCo said in a statement yesterday.
The corporation further noted that due to the strike 329 punts of canes are in the mill dock waiting to be processed, while 347 punts of burnt canes are in the fields waiting to be loaded. “Some of those canes were burnt since Sunday, October 13, and are deteriorating in quality and the Corporation will be unable to recover the sucrose (sugar),” it added.
Blairmont sugar workers who have been on strike since Monday
On Wednesday, the striking workers held a picketing exercise outside of the estate’s administration office and they called on GuySuCo for “a pay raise and fair treatment.”
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU), in a statement, explained that the strike action had its genesis in the workers deciding to protest against a decision by the estate to hire a former manager of Rose Hall Estate as an artisan. “They (sugar workers) allege that the recently employed worker was given a promotion while other workers who have been in the estate’s employ for some time and have sought promotion are not being similarly treated,” it said.
GAWU also claimed that the workers shared that they learnt that the newly promoted employee was not required to undertake a necessary test to determine eligibility for promotion.
The statement explained that in the sugar industry, artisans are required to undertake a test to assess their competence for upward movement.
Noting that the union was informed that indeed the worker had recently taken the test and was successful hence the promotion, they said, it said the workers feel slighted since some have claimed that they had applied to be tested and they were not given the opportunity to do so. “The GAWU has always encouraged workers to seek promotion once they are able and capable,” the union said.
Additionally, GAWU said the workers’ picketing exercise also heightened the call of all sugar workers for increased pay. “As is now a well-known and sad reality, sugar workers have not benefitted from any rise in pay since the incumbent administration took office in 2015. In that period, as the GAWU has mentioned on several occasions, sugar workers’ pay has fallen owing to a number of factors. That fact has placed them and their families in a precarious situation bearing in mind the heavy increase in the cost-of-living since workers have last gotten any pay rise,” it noted.
However, GuySuCo, in a statement yesterday, noted that in light of the claim by the striking workers that some were overlooked for the position, management requested from the union a list of the names of those who claimed to be overlooked. “So far, at all the meetings with management, the union officer and shop stewards have failed to identify any of the persons who claimed to have applied for reclassification in adherence to the corporation’s Regrading and Reclassification Scheme and were denied,” it, however, noted.
Further, according to GuySuCo’s statement, the estate’s records indicate that no employee applied through the Scheme to be upgraded in 2017 and only three electricians applied in 2018.
GuySuCo also pointed out the irony of the strike being against a decision made by management to re-employ a former Rose Hall Estate employee as a skilled tradesman and appoint him to a Class 1 in the Factory, despite the union being vocal through picketing and strikes against the sugar workers losing their jobs due to closure of the estates. “They are making calls for the re-engaged employee’s appointment to be rescinded immediately,” it said, while adding that GAWU will have to decide on which side of the fence it wants to stand. “Their current action and support for the striking workers against a colleague within the same bargaining unit will only serve to divide the workforce,” it said.
GuySuCo added that it is of the view that the current actions by the Blairmont factory workers are unwarranted, and that if the employees had concerns, then the extant Recognition and Avoidance of Disputes Agreement between the parties should have guided the process to have such concerns addressed. “Unfortunately, in this instance, that mechanism was not followed by the local Union representatives and striking employees,” it said.
GuySuCo is claiming, that from the onset of the strike, the estate management has engaged the union’s local field officer along with the shop stewards, “listening to their concerns and providing clarifications where necessary. Those engagements, however, have so far proved futile since the employees continue to withhold their labour.”
GuySuCo said that on Wednesday officers from the sugar corporation’s head office got involved. “The officers informed their counterparts from the union that once normalcy resumes at the estate, the parties would have met yesterday October 17, 2019 to discuss the employees concerns,” it noted. However, according to GuySuCo, on Thursday morning the GAWU central officials were present on the ground “and rather than encouraging the employees to resume duty, they were actively participating in a picketing exercise which prevented the scheduled meeting.”
GuySuCo also pointed out, that just a few weeks ago, the GAWU, in a press release, criticised the corporation for not achieving its second crop sugar production targets. “The ongoing strike will now compound the situation as critical opportunity time to complete the 2nd crop is being lost,” it noted.
Additionally, GuySuCo noted that as a result of the strike, the routine factory maintenance that is normally done on Mondays has been delayed until the employees resume work.