By Shikema Dey
While the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuYSuCo) is “willing and ready” to negotiate salary increases with aggrieved sugar workers from the Blairmont, Albion and Uitvulgt Estate, it simply ‘cannot pay what it does not have’.
This is according to Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Sasenarine Singh, who spoke with the News Room on Wednesday. Sugar workers from both estates have been engaged in a week-long protest concerning protracted wage/salary discussions that go back to 2019.
Despite assurances from the Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, that the government would engage GuySuCo on workers’ benefits, the protest continues.
“This is an extremely sensitive issue, sensitive time in the industry. We [are] rebuilding an industry that was broken and for you to do that, it requires a strategy, which the industry has already developed. It requires money, resources, which clearly GUYSUCO has a shortage of,” the GuySuCo CEO told the News Room at his La Bonne Intention (LBI) office.
He explained that in 2020, the sugar company made a loss of $3.8 billion and a majority of its funding went towards wages and salaries. Added to that, Singh said that Guyana was producing sugar at an extremely higher cost than it was being sold.
All of these factors, he stated, contribute to why GuySuCo is unable to dole out the needed increases.
“We are ready and willing to accountable, to be transparent and to practice good corporate governance, but we cannot pay what we do not have,” the CEO said.
Additionally, the CEO said that while negotiations are a priority for GuySuCo, it cannot “rush” into it, as management is answerable to a Board of Directors and shareholders who play key roles in the decision-making process.
Singh also made clear that he will not engage in negotiation discussions “in the media.”
“It is quite unfortunate that some stakeholders have decided to negotiate in the media. I cannot negotiate in the media, and I will not negotiate with the media, and whoever wants to negotiate in media, I say to them, go ahead.”
Further, the CEO urged the sugar workers to be patient and end the strike action as they aim to find common ground on the issue.
“To the workers of GuySuCo, the 7,400 workers, this is a message to you. We are doing everything possible to make this negotiation complete successfully so that this is a win-win situation for everyone.”
Just three months after GuySuCo was allocated the sum of $3 billion, the government returned to the National Assembly on December 28, 2020, requesting an additional $4 billion.
While the previous $3 billion was to recapitalise the three estates closed by the former APNU+AFC government at Rose Hall, Skeldon, and Enmore, the $4 billion was slated to support the recapitalisation of the three operating estates at Blairmont, Albion and Uitvlugt.
Mustapha had told the National Assembly that because of the neglect, the three operating estates were subjected to over the last five years, critical capital works had become necessary.
Additionally, the 2021 National Budget makes provisions for $2B for ‘critical’ capital works at the estates. The government has started the process to reopen sugar estates closed by the former government.