Sugar unions ‘ready’ to work with Gov’t on solutions

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Unions representing sugar workers have said they are satisfied that the Government is concerned about the fate of retrenched sugar workers and as such, they are ready to help develop a plan for the way forward.

“We have listened and we are satisfied that you are concerned with the issues.

“We are ready to work along with the Government to explore the options and we are going to give our best to see the situation out,” said Komal Chand, who heads GAWU, the country’s largest union representing sugar workers.

His comments followed a meeting GAWU and the other sugar union NAAACIE had with President David Granger and ministers of the government Friday morning.

An estimated 4, 000 sugar workers were sent home last month with the closure of four estates.

“We are certainly pleased with this meeting. This is the first meeting [for the year] we have been able to have with the Government and we believe that the meeting took place in a positive atmosphere and we recognise that the Government itself pays attention and I think that it is a good beginning,” Chand stated.

He added: “That is certainly important ground rule that we dialogue, that we talk and try to find an answer for the way forward.

“From GAWU, we are very pleased and it spells out that the future engagement are in the interest of the workers, the industry and the country,” he said.

Finance Minister Winston Jordan announced in the National Assembly Friday that workers who are owed severance $500, 000 and under will get the full payment this month end. This represents 46% of the workers who were sent home. Others who are owed higher severance will receive 50% at the end of the month and the other 50% will be paid in the second half of the year.

President Granger, who addressed members of the Union, said that this is the start of talks between the two sides so that an agreement can be reached at the earliest possible time.

“This is a national matter. It is not a partisan one. It involves human beings, households and families,” President Granger stated.

He emphasised that the government could not continue bailing out the industry. The Guyana Sugar Corporation received $32 billion from 2015-2017 in subsidies, something which the President said was “simply not sustainable.”

“Government will not win, the Unions will not win and the workers will not win if the industry is crippled. We will all lose. Nobody is against the sugar industry.

“The Government and the Unions should engage until the issue is resolved. Let us use this opportunity to show flexibility and ensure that livelihoods are saved,” the President said.

Minister of Social Protection Amna Ally said the Board of Industrial Training (BIT), as well as the Port Mourant Training Centre, will be utilised to train and upgrade the skills of the workers. Additionally, she noted that the service of the Micro Credit Unit at the Ministry is available to lend assistance, as there are micro-financing available for start-up projects.

“We are cognisant that many workers will now have to explore the idea of entering a new realm of employment and already we have given great consideration in a number of areas to go forward,” Ally stated.

Others at home were Minister of State Joseph Harmon, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Vice President and Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Sydney Allicock, Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan and Minister within the Ministry of Finance Jaipaul Sharma.

The Unions and the government will meet again at a date to be determined. (Extracted and modified from the Ministry of the Presidency)

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