Sugar workers protest President’s office for increase in wages

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Sugar workers from estates -Albion and Blairmont in Berbice and Uitvlugt, West Coast Demerara – are currently on strike action for an increase in their wages.

The sugar workers held a peaceful picketing exercise Tuesday morning in front of the Ministry of the Presidency on Vlissengen Road, Georgetown.

They were joined by officials of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).

President of GAWU Komal Chand told the News Room that the union wants to send a strong message about the treatment meted out to sugar workers.

“We have this protest in addition to other action on the estates that is Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt. The objectives of this protest are to persuade the Government to provide an increase to the sugar workers,” Chand said.

According to Chand, the Government is engaging in “crude naked discrimination” against the sugar workers.

“In the election campaign, they committed to give an increase to sugar workers by 20 per cent. They committed that sugar is too big to fail, meaning that they won’t close any estate as soon as they get into power one of the first act that they did is to close Wales Estate without consultations with the workers and the Union,” Chand said.

Chand noted that GAWU sent a petition to President David Granger about two months ago for an increase in wages.

“He [President Granger] responded to say that he will send our petition to GuySuCo and he will then forward to us a response, he hasn’t done so,” Chand said.

Chand said GAWU met with GuySuCo two weeks ago and they are unable to say whether the workers will get an increase.

Chand said GAWU has been asking for a 15 per cent increase for sugar workers since 2014.

“Neil Marks asked the President last Sunday pointedly three times –will the sugar workers get an increase and he [evaded] providing an answer. The President said that every worker who was displaced were given jobs. He is not speaking the truth, whoever inform him about that have no doubt misled him,” Chand said.

While the Government announced retroactive salary increases for public servants including those in semi-autonomous Government agencies, sugar workers will not benefit.

Two workers at the picketing exercise told the News Room that they are being treated unfairly.

Sookdeo Khan

“We got children to send to school, we got to pay rent, we got to pay light bill and everything gone up. It is very hard on the sugar workers. These sugar workers wah working so hard we nah get nothing,” Sookdeo Khan said.

Another worker, Odirie Jacobs said that the current wage is not sufficient to maintain a family.

“A 19,000 or 15,000 cannot support a family when the week come. We looking for something a little bit more, when you done take out money for schooling, money for ration, what you leave back with to pay your house rent, light bill, phone bill?”

Odirie Jacobs

Recently, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan said any possibility of a pay increase for sugar workers must be dealt with by the Board of GuySuCo.

But Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo at a recent press conference said it is the Government who has oversight of the industry and cannot claim it is up to the Board to decide on the salary increases.

Jagdeo noted that funds from the $30 billion bond that was secured to recapitalise the three estates or funds from the sale of the estates that were closed, could be used to meet the salary increase.

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