Combat Voice of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU)
The minimisation of the sugar industry
The sending home of thousands of sugar workers in the middle of the 2017 year-end festive season evoked a maelstrom of criticism as the Government and its GuySuCo proceeded with their wrong plans to minimize the sugar industry. In the two (2) years since the Government foolhardily decided to reduce the scope of the nation’s most enduring industry, approximately 7,000 workers have been put on the breadline. The large retrenchment exercise, probably largest in the history of post-independence Guyana and certainly the largest since the beginning of the new millennium eighteen (18) years ago, touched the conscience of the Guyanese people. In the days and weeks that followed the mass distribution of redundancy notifications, individuals and organisations alike spoke up and raised their voices of concern. Guyanese, both resident and non-resident, expressed their serious concern with the policy of the Coalition Administration to make jobless thousands of ordinary, poor people. Many expressed the view that our policymakers seemingly did not consider, in any serious way, the creation of alternatives for workers who were affected. Without a doubt, it raises questions about the Government’s utterances regarding concern for the sugar workers, and more so it’s stated objective to govern in the interest of all Guyanese. Sadly, despite the wide outcry, it seems thus far the Government has been unable to put together any credible plan for the thousands of workers that are on the breadline. This is indeed disturbing, given that Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder reportedly told the media that the decision to reduce the footprint of the sugar industry was taken since the latter part of 2015. The Minister’s utterances, if they were accurately reported, bring to mind several questions of matters. For instance, the Government, weeks after it took office, established a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the sugar industry, the most costly of the CoIs that have been established thus far. That Commission, after receiving written and oral testimonies from organisations and individuals; spending hundreds, if not thousands, of man hours poring over a mountain of documents, reports and data; visiting the sugar estates and interacting with workers and managerial personnel, among other things, recommended that the industry be maintained in size and scope; though it urged, by majority, that the industry be privatized. That Commission saw that the industry could have a successful future through sugar cane diversification but the majority of members contended that the Government hadn’t the wherewithal to finance that transformation. Continued on page two (2) COMBAT
2018 sugar production target slashed - target reduced by 11 per cent without a stalk of cane cut
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is very disturbed to learn that the GuySuCo has revised downwards its 2018 sugar production target. This information is of more concern considering that as yet not one stalk of cane has been harvested for 2018. From the Corporation’s First Crop 2018 Weekly Production Incentive memorandum, dated January 29, 2018, the GuySuCo, it was stated, was expected to produce 103,002 tonnes sugar this year. It must be noted that Minister of Finance Winston Jordan, in his 2018 Budget address announced that the GuySuCo would produce 115,447 tonnes. In effect, in a matter of weeks, and we reiterate without a stalk of cane being harvested, the Corporation has already reduced its target by nearly 11 per cent. This announcement, for us, is not comforting, and reminds us of what took place in 2017, when the production target was reduced on several occasions and the industry ultimately produced a little over 137,000 tonnes sugar, the worst production since 1990. The fact that reductions are already taking place causes us naturally
to wonder what is really taking place in GuySuCo, especially when a number of executives, experts, advisors, etc have been taken on in recent times, and who reportedly are still on the job despite 4 estates being closed. Clearly, something is not right, and those who are charged with leading and managing the Corporation have seemingly fallen asleep at the wheel while thousands of hapless workers are being affected. The industry obviously has lost its way, and in this hapless condition has pursued myopic and senseless measures which have brought on suffering to thousands of workers, their dependents, and those who earn a living from the industry’s full operations. Again, we are seeing the early results of an industry that is set on an ill-advised track and is clearly headed by stubborn decision-makers who seem to be unable to give the required leadership to the industry at this time. The decision-makers posited that the closure of the estates will return profitability to the company, but from the way it is being managed, that “profitability” is nothing but a pipe dream. PAGE ONE
The minimisation of the sugar industry
From page one (1) In all fairness, that was a question that the Administration should have answered, and the CoI seemingly exceeded its mandate. Furthermore, the Administration, around the time it made its infamous decision to reduce the size of the sugar industry, had barely warmed the seats of Government, and could not have, in any real way, considered the magnitude of the sugar industry’s economic contribution. It seems now-a-days the Coalition, though having firmly warmed the seats of Government, still has not grappled with the industry’s economic impact, as continued reference to financial data shows. Certainly, the Government, had it been receiving credible advice, would have seen the distinction between the industry’s economic and financial contribution and could not, in all reasonableness, decide to close estates and put thousands out of work.
But from all intentions, it seems the Government was least interested in considering the industry’s economic impact. This view is given credence in the Administration’s consistent stance that it would not pursue a socio-economic study, which, if properly done and considered, would have illustrated the industry’s real contribution to Guyana and its people. The fact that the Administration turned a Nelson’s eye to the sincere and credible advice from the trade unions, among several organisations and individuals not to minimize the industry but rather to diversify its product base; that it chose to ignore the workers’ strong opposition to its plans to close estates; and that it went against the advice of its own CoI, which was largely comprised of persons hand-picked by the Government, clearly gives strength to the notion that the decision was politically motivated. As they say: where there is smoke, there is fire.
A worrying crime situation The Guyana Police Force, in mid-February, 2018, proudly proclaimed that serious crimes had fallen by 19 per cent. For many Guyanese this claim was startling, given what they hear, witness and experience day in, day out. In fact, several foreign missions have warned their nationals about the prevalence of crime. It was therefore disbelieving to many people that the Police reported that crime has declined. If it is that indeed criminal activities have fallen, this is a welcome respite, but what the Police haven’t shared, publicly, at least, are statistics on the commission of various criminal activities and the success rate by our police in apprehending those guilty of such acts. These are important pieces of information, and help to shine more light on criminality in the society. It is generally known that some persons do not report incidents of crime. The non-reporting has been attributed in part to possibly the victim engaged in some illegal endeavour, but more often than not, it is due to the victim’s lack of faith in the Police Force’s ability to respond as the public expects of them. Today many Guyanese live in perpetual fear, wondering whether they are the next victim. Criminality has become more sophisticated, and the media has reported on several new techniques being employed by criminals. Moreover, the miscreants in our society have become more brazen and emboldened and the press has reported recently about pensioners COMBAT
and even school children being robbed, and the Society for the Blind being held at ransom by bandits. In years gone by, seldom were such depravities being committed by criminals heard of. Several studies have concluded that there is a close link between criminality and employment and economic performance. Those studies have concluded that crime tends to be on the rise when there is economic contraction and employment opportunities tighten. Researchers have surmised that in such situations, perpetrators are forced to take extreme measures after futile job hunting, or losing their jobs and being unable to secure new employment. In our context, contemporary history has recorded that thousands have been laid off in the last two and a half years, and tens of thousands have been affected. Today, a lot of Guyanese are finding it difficult to put food on their tables, or to satisfy the full requirement of their children going to school, or to pay their bills. Many who are affected had never imagined they would have to face such a situation, which they probably only saw on television. What is clear despite the Police Force’s statistics is that many Guyanese do not feel safe, and continuously look behind them or through their windows with a suspicious eye. A worsening economic situation will only serve to aggravate that worrisome state many Guyanese live in these days.
GAWU concerned about reported plans on estate resumption
The GAWU was surprised to learn, from a report on newscast Newsroom, that operations at East Demerara and Skeldon Estates, when they resume, expectedly not too long from now, would see cane cutting being undertaken by a contractor reportedly from West Coast Demerara. The report, if correct, is upsetting, as it seems to indicate that a very few, if any, of the displaced workers would have an opportunity to be re-employed. It is incredulous that such an endeavour would be contemplated, especially given the despairing situation in which very many of the workers and their families currently find themselves. Added to that, the informal employment relations being promoted has been shown to promote impoverishment while flouting protections, legal and otherwise, offered to workers. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has found that the promotion of such arrangements has served to expand the army of the working-poor across the world. The newscast also reported that East Demerara and Skeldon were expected to resume for about two (2) weeks and one (1) month respectively. The timelines outlined in the report, if they are accurate, certainly raise eyebrows. The resumption is intended, from what we saw in the press, to ensure that the estates remain in an acceptable state, and that their values are maximized. We hardly see how those objectives can be realized, given the crop duration reported by the Newsroom. We are aware that GuySuCo did not undertake much crop husbandry work in the two (2) estates named in the last year, but we find it difficult to accept that just a small quantity of harvestable canes remain. Furthermore, we are aware that both East Demerara and Skeldon Estates
did not manage to harvest all the available canes before they were closed at the end of 2017. But more than that, the canes harvested last year have naturally re-grown, and can be harvested. Should they not be harvested, they will present additional difficulties as overgrown canes, and serve to undermine the intention to secure maximum value. The report also informed that an Executive Chairman of GuySuCo would be appointed, bringing an end to the long-standing practice of non-executive directors. It is the only state-owned enterprise, as far as we are aware, to have such an arrangement. The Corporation, we recall, was previously led by Executive Directors, and the results were not generally positive. Moreover, we are not aware of the justification for the decision to revert to having Executive Directors once again. We also learnt that the Corporation’s Board would be expanded by four (4) directors. While we are hopeful that the new Board of Directors will comprise of ‘fit and proper’ individuals, we recognise that there seemingly is no intention to expand workers’ participation beyond a single director. The workers play a key role in the industry, and we believe they should be integrally involved in the Corporation’s decision-making hierarchy. While we cannot verify the accuracy of the press report, we, at the same time, cannot ignore what the media is saying either, particularly with respect to the industry. As recent history has shown, more often than not, media reports are generally accurate; as we recall the exposure of the Wales closure decision, or the Exxon signing bonus, or the Ministerial pay hike.
As GAWU observes sugar recognition anniversary
The demands of our times warrant continued struggles Forty-two (42) years ago, on February 27, 1976, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the Sugar Producers Association (SPA), the forerunner to the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo), signed the Recognition and Avoidance and Settlement of Disputes Agreement. The historic signing, as it was, legitimized the GAWU as the bargaining agent on behalf of the thousands of sugar workers employed in the industry’s fields and factories. It was indeed a landmark moment in the ongoing struggles of the sugar workers, who, like all workers, are seeking to be treated with respect and dignity, to have their rights and conditions protected, and to advance their causes and lot. The struggle for recognition The formation of the Guiana Industrial Workers Union (GIWU) in 1946 commenced the 30-year struggle for GAWU’s recognition in the place of the Man Power Citizens’ Association (MPCA). An early highpoint in the struggle took place in 1948, when workers at Non Pareil, Lusignan and Better Hope struck, opposing the imposition of the cut-and-load system. The strikers also demanded the recognition of GIWU, and protested against the miserable working and living conditions they endured. That struggle saw the brutal death of five (5) sugar workers and injury to fourteen (14) others on June 16, 1948, when the colonial police opened fire on the unarmed workers. By 1955, the GIWU ceased to function. Soon thereafter, another Union the Guyana Sugar Workers Union (GSWU), was formed and registered in 1961. It was renamed the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) in 1962. The GAWU reignited the struggle for union recognition, but the sugar planters remained steadfast in refusing to recognize the Union, despite the fierce struggles it mounted. In the struggle for recognition, an important place is occupied by the death of Kowsilla, which occurred on March 06, 1964 outside the Leonora Factory gate. Kowsilla and striking sugar workers were protesting against their denial of work, and, at the same time, were demanding the recognition of GAWU. The General Manager of the Estate reportedly instructed a scab who was driving a tractor to drive onto the factory bridge, an act which led to Kowsilla’s death. GAWU is forever indebted to Kowsilla, and has organized a yearly COMBAT
the University of Guyana, but they cannot get a job. What will these people do?”. She went on to say “…as far as I am concern, this nation has become a stagnated nation, and only God can help us”. We need to also emphasize that the workers, faced with daunting challenges brought about by an uncaring Government, did not give up hope. They stood up and defended militantly their jobs, their families and their communities. They demonstrated an indomitable will to succeed, and to call attention to, and overcome, their plight. Their laudable actions to counter the deadly hands of the State on their jobs and livelihood found sincere sympathy among a wide section of Guyanese, and also from several overseas organisations. Their sustained struggles brought several allies who spoke up in their defense in the press, in social media, and elsewhere. This is a monumental achievement, and one in which workers should take great pride and solace. Workers’ marches, protests, picketing exercises, press conferences, public meetings and other activities, without a doubt, in our view, prompted the Administration to re-think their hardened position. The closure position has seemingly been re-visited, and the Government has apparently decided to divest estates, which arguably is the lesser of two evils, but is necessarily the best solution. While we know this is not the outcome either the workers or the GAWU wanted, the workers can hold their heads high and once again recognize an abiding lesson of working-class history; that is: in authoritarian, class divided societies, the elites holding the reins of power nevRepresentatives of GAWU and the SPA signing the Recognition Agreement on February 27, er, or hardly ever, ensure justice for the 1976 working-class. Thus the struggle for real, pro-working people change must continadvanced representation for improving it didn’t see the negative impact it would ue. the pay levels of its members, supported have on people life…”. An ex-cane cutter We take heart in the knowledge that actions to bring about the improvement of Wales, Michael Chootoo, shared that time is the greatest judge. We are sure it of their conditions of work, and obtained “…we ain’t get no wuk [work], we ain’t get will endorse the justness of our struggles, greater benefits for them. GAWU has al- no severance, we ain’t get no nothing…”. and, moreover, correct the injustices of ways been motivated by the need to de- Chootoo said he “…is not getting no job, today. History and future generations of fend workers’ rights and promote work- he ain’t getting no money, and he got pick- Guyanese will condemn harshly those ers’ welfare, seeing these as necessary ney [children]going to school…”. He sadly who advanced, approved and implementsteps along the way to bring an end to shared that his wife left him after he was ed the plans which affected so many ordiexploitation and usher in profound social unable to provide for his family. Herlene nary people. The times, though difficult changes. Lewis, who was employed at Skeldon, and distressing, must not daunt us, but, said she was “…very disturbed, very dis- indeed, impel us for more determined Contemporary challenges turbed, especially for the young people. activities. We of the GAWU pledge to What are they going to do? Crime rate is continue to represent the workers’ cause, Today as we reflect with pride on the also on the increase in the entire Guyana, to bring greater attention to the workers’ challenges we overcame and the several and not only Skeldon but the entire Guy- plight, and to press on to win effective successes we recorded, we do so look- ana…education-wise, some people just support and solidarity for their case. ing to the future with great anxiety and came out of high school, graduates from commemoration activity in her memory, which is usually held at her gravesite at Anna Catherina Cemetery. It required many forceful battles led by GAWU to get the SPA, at last, to decide to have a poll to determine recognition. The poll was conducted by the Ministry of Labour on Old Year’s Day 1975. The change of the SPA’s stance was linked to the changing political climate and the prevailing situation in the country. The poll vindicated GAWU’s claim that it had the overwhelming support of the sugar workers. Of the 21,655 votes cast by workers, the MPCA ignominiously received 376, or 1.71 per cent; 92 votes, or 0.42 per cent, were deemed spoilt; and GAWU deservedly obtained 21,487 votes, or 97.87 per cent of the votes. The poll was history making. Since our recognition, the Union has
worry about what tomorrow and the days after that will bring. Dismayingly, the Administration, without any sound logic or even any credible economic justification, have taken decisions to close sugar estates, and have put thousands of workers on the breadline in the last two (2) years. These decisions, which can be described as reckless, heartless and ill-considered, have taken a heavy toll in the sugar belt, where estates have been closed. The now former, currently jobless, sugar workers have shared the hardships they have and are facing. Former Rose Hall worker Glendon Grant says “…people in the community are frustrated; personally, I am frustrated. Every morning I wake up, I don’t know what to do”. Grant went on to say, “…you can’t deprive people of their livelihood. This Government didn’t think what it would do,
Finance Minister’s statements indicate that Goverment in a state of confusion on sugar er, if it is that no sugar would be produced, as can be gleaned from the Finance Minister’s comments, it would mean that the molasses of East Demerara would be of a very high quality. This, we understand, would lend to more alcohol being produced. Disturbingly, in spite of this very positive characteristic, it would not yield any higher prices, as molasses is sold by the tonne irrespective of its quality. Again, this amounts to a State subsidy to the buyer of the molasses.
The GAWU, through reports that appeared in several sections of the press, was, to say the least, surprised to learn that the state-owned NICIL Special Purpose Unit (SPU), according to Finance Minister Winston Jordan, was seeking financing in the region of $10B to $15B in order to resume operations at East Demerara and Skeldon Estates. By any yardstick, this is a huge sum, and we initially thought that the Minister maybe was misquoted. This, however, turned out not to be the case. Minister Jordan said the SPU was close to finalizing the financing through an arrangement with a consortium of local banks. Our Union, on this score, cannot help but wonder about the collateral that would have to be put up or the interest rates that would be demanded, among the other conditions that the banks would impose. Just some food for thought!
ments are anything to go by, it seems that hardly any of the money being sought would be going to the workers. The Minister, according to a Demerara Waves report, was quoted to have said “…it would have been more expensive to keep them [the estates]open especially in the areas of staffing and costs”. Therefore, it seems that workers’ remuneration would be kept to the barest, which in itself will present its own problems. Minister Jordan, who is described in the Demerara Waves report as a career economist, ought to be very au fait with the theory of labour supply, and thus he would well know there is a point (wage rate) when workers would rather stay home and starve, rather than to work and starve.
It seems that the sums being sought would be utilized towards meeting capital expenditure. If this is factual, then the figures, Sum of investment from our point of view, seem Aside from those important high. We recall that the Sugar considerations, we are perplexed CoI has estimated that capital by the need for such a large sum. expenditure for the period 2016 to 2020 for East Demerara and We recall that Guy- Skeldon would be $2.57B and $1.151B respectively. With those SuCo, with seven (7) investments, the CoI concluded factories under its that two (2) estates would have fold, had required less- produced 39,615 and 61,744 er financing from the tonnes sugar respectively by 2020. Should the additional sums Treasury; and there- be used to fund the sugar diverfore we are at a loss sification projects recommended to figure out why the by the Sugar CoI and endorsed need for the significant by our Union, then, we believe, it would be shortsighted to sell resum. habilitated and improved estates to allow the private owners to Moreover, if the Minister’s comCOMBAT
cream off the massive profits that could be realized from the implementation of these initiatives. Whatever is the case, we believe it would be difficult for NICIL to fully recover its entire investment.
In other words, the unrecovered portion of the investments being contemplated would amount to a State subsidy to the new owners apart from the other fiscal concessions that the private owners would obviously demand. It appears that the best approach would be for the State to retain ownership. Molasses production at Enmore The Finance Minister, according to the Newsroom report, said in reference to resumption at East Demerara Estate that it would operate “…for producing molasses…”. We do not think that this is the best approach, especially given the possibilities of utilizing the estate’s packaging plant. The direct consumption sugar which is produced fetches a high premium. In fact, the Sugar CoI report had disclosed that this was GuySuCo’s highest priced sugar, and had recommended that the plant be maximally utilized.
Rose Hall, the estate would also operate. Mr Graham, the Guyana Times reported, said the availability of canes was one of those conditions. We are aware that Rose Hall has canes available for harvest. A booklet prepared by the SPU, which was shared with our Union during our January 19, 2018 engagement with the Government advised that Rose Hall has the possibility of producing 5,740 tonnes of sugar in the first crop and a further 8,545 tonnes during the second crop. We would be eager to know of Timeline for sale the other conditions, using Mr We also learnt that Minister Jor- Graham’s term, that East Demerdan expects that sale of the es- ara and Skeldon have satisfied tates identified for privatisation and Rose Hall has not. would be completed, according to an NCN report, “…in another Conclusion six to nine months”. The MinisFrom the developments that ter’s statement is in vast contrast are taking place, it seems to us with SPU privatization specialist there is no clear, coherent plan Mr Shawn Persaud. We recall Mr to deal with the terrible situation Persaud being quoted in a Jan- brought about by the closure of uary 26, 2018 Demerara Waves sugar estates. The GAWU wishes report, titled ‘Enmore estate to reiterate that the Government likely to remain opened’, to have has not truly and fully considsaid that the “…authorities could ered all the ramifications of its not wait two years for the estates decision to close estates and put to be sold…”. Is it nine months thousands on the breadline. This, or two years? But the Minister as we see, is clearly illustrated by added to the confusion when he the confusion that we are now said, according to NCN, that the seeing. While Government has loan the SPU is hoping to secure belaboured the support the State would be repaid in three to five provided to the sugar industry, years. In effect, the Finance Min- we see, in effect, possibly billions ister is saying that the SPU would of State subsidies being provided have so long disposed of the as- to the potential owners and the sets that it would have derived industry’s customers. the revenue to repay the loan it is now seeking. No prudent bankThe best approach, it er in their rightful sense would seems, was to keep the approve such a loan, unless it is estates open and invest guaranteed by the Government. If this is so, then this amounts the billions being paid to a further subsidy by the State as severance to imdown the road. Or, maybe it is prove production and that the Minister misspoke or is productivity, as the in a state of obvious confusion.
What about Rose Hall? At this time too, we recognise there is a deafening silence regarding Rose Hall Estate, where the people are very hard pressed and are contending with several challenges and difficulties. The GAWU noted that SPU spokesperson Mr Alex Graham is reported in the February 19, 2018 Also, it should not be forgotGuyana Times as saying that if ten that molasses is a remnant certain conditions are present at of sugar production. Howev-
GAWU suggested and reiterated time and time again.
This would be the least costly option before the Administration, rather than the foolhardy approach to close the estates and then, like Rip Van Winkle, wake up to the realization that the estates should have remained operable. PAGE FOUR
GAWU urges PM to fact check his columns The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) finds it necessary to bring clarity to several assertions made by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo in his column titled ‘Sugar and Politricks’, which appeared in the January 14, 2018 Guyana Chronicle. Having read the PM’s column, from all appearances, it seems that Mr Nagamootoo did not heed our sincere advice to have his columns fact-checked before they are sent to press, in order to avoid any embarrassment to him or his office. If it is indeed that his columns are benefitting from such an examination, it seems that the job was not thoroughly done.
the air of misinformation, our Union’s approach to the Courts became necessary after the GuySuCo refused to abide by the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA) regarding its decision to make workers of Wales redundant. The Court approved our request on May 09, 2017, though the concerned workers severance was due on April 23, 2017. As the dates attest, our Court Action was not in the way of paying the workers their due payments but the PM unashamedly seeks to use it as a mask for the GuySuCo’s, and possibly the Government’s, decision to punish the workers.
Mr Nagamootoo says his Government has nothing to gain from any sugar worker being laid off. But while the PM writes with great concern, we see his statements translated into hardly any action. If we go by the situation that is playing out at Wales, for instance, the PM’s words offer little, if any, comfort to the hundreds who have been sent home and are facing a miserable and difficult life. The PM says the Government “…is doing all it possibly could to cushion the impact of the crisis…”. But this mere hollow rhetoric is exposed by the January 15, 2018 Stabroek News editorial which said “[f]or two years, the government and GuySuCo issued a series of pledges to the workers of the Wales estate in relation to alternative employment and other options. These have all failed to deliver, except for dozens of workers who now have to make an arduous journey to the Uitvlugt estate each day. As had been warned by sceptics, nothing has flowed from the proposed diversification plans. The cultivation of seed paddy at Wales was not a success, and the much-hyped aquaculture project has apparently sailed away along with a host of other infeasible plans. It was a return to the sugar diversification plans of the 80s, and these plans have predictably met the same ignominious fate and with some of the same advisors on board.”
Mr Nagamootoo then writes, saying that our Union is demanding that the workers be paid their severance payments now. It seems, from our perspective, that the PM may need to have his eyes checked, as that has always been our demand.
As we reflected on the PM’s statements, we recall Proverbs 5, verses 3 and 4, which say, “for the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword”. The PM then goes and attempts to twist the truth regarding GAWU’s Court Action with respect to the Wales workers. Mr Nagamootoo, like a hoarse singer belting out the same tune over and over, seeks ashamedly to find sordid cover for denial of severance pay to the approximately 100 workers of Wales for several months. This now very much overused red-herring has lost its luster, and our Union has, on several occasions, corrected the PM’s misguided innuendos. But just to clear COMBAT
Then the PM says that “[n]either the Termination of
this score, we cannot fail to recall what Sir Walter Scott wrote in 1808 when he said, “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!” Mr Nagamootoo proudly speaks of the State Paper that was presented in the Parliament in early May, 2017. Certainly, from that time, and even before, the Government was aware of the repercussions of its plans, yet inexplicably did not cater for them. Certainly, the Government had a yardstick to work with as the PM wrote that at Wales “…just under 100 workers received an estimated $80 million”. Further to that, GuySuCo, during an engagement with our Union on December 20, 2017, told us that it had supplied a preliminary figure to the Administration weeks before the Budget was presented. Is it that the GuySuCo numbers were ignored? The PM also says some 500 workers were engaged in certain re-training. But just mere days prior to Mr Nagamootoo’s column, he read a message in the National Assembly from President David Granger which said in reference to re-training that “…over 100 of them [workers]signalling their willingness to be retrained”. Tisk tisk Mr Nagamootoo, do you see how important fact-checking is. These foot-in-the-mouth episodes could be avoided. Mr Nagamootoo then serenades us about recent training done by the Business Ministry and of small business loans. If the PM’s figures are correct, given the obvious inaccuracies contained in his column, we must ask:- how many sugar workers benefitted? The PM also touts investments that his Government supposedly garnered. We ask again:how many sugar workers were employed? This as we see the cement factory along the Berbice River. which Vice President Khemraj Ramjattan said would have been a major employer of displaced sugar workers closed, and some 100 employees sent into the unemployed world.
Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA), nor the collective labour agreement stipulates a date by which such payments ought to be made…”. We wish to point the PM, to Section 21(1) of TESPA. We believe it may be edifying for him. The PM goes on writing that $500M was budgeted for severance. This is strange, as the PM’s cabinet and AFC colleague, Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder, after our Union publicly disclosed that GuySuCo hadn’t the monies to meet the workers’ severance payment, is quoted to have said in the December 22, 2017 Stabroek News that the sums for severance pay were available “…from the 2018 budget to the Agriculture Ministry to pay the workers. In addition to the budgetary allocations, he also pointed out that there are funds that will also be available through other avenues that will be used to pay the workers”. Now the PM, seemingly with glee, says only “…an advance on the severance bill” was budgeted. On
We recognize the PM is trying tirelessly to free himself and Government from the sad situation that grips thousands in the sugar belt. While the PM speaks about Politricks, it is the Administration of which he is a top member that is engaged in trickery, deception and duplicity. How else can Mr Nagamootoo move from saying to GINA on November 28, 2015 that “There should be no discussion or debate regarding the importance of the sugar industry to Guyana’s economy… in fact we have said this on a number of occasions, that this Government sees sugar as too big to fail” to now supporting openly and blaringly decisions to close down estates and put people out of work and into a life of impoverishment. PAGE FIVE
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'All I wish is for Palestine to be free' Freedom Fighter Ahed Tamimi
A h e d ’s mother Nar iman went to the police station where her daughter was being held, in order to be present for her interrogation, she herself was arrested. On January 31, 2 0 1 8 , A h e d turned 17 in prison. Ahed’s trial began on February 13, behind closed doors. She has been slapped with 12 charges, including stone-throwing, a charge levied against the vast majority of detained Palestinian children and punishable under military law by up to 20 years in prison. Stone-throwing and even participating in demonstrations are “security offenses” under the Israeli military court system. When I first started work on this embroidered poster of Ahed Tamimi, I wanted it to be a testimony to her predicament. But as I read further about the treatment of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli occupation forces, and learned, for instance, that since the 2000 Al-Aqsa Intifada, more than 12,000 children have been detained by the Israeli military, I was reminded that beyond Ahed’s story are countless incidents that have yet to attract much media attention. For example, following Trump’s call to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the Israeli occupation forces detained not one but about 450 children. It doesn’t matter how, when, or at what age a Palestinian might resist illegal Israeli military occupation. Any resistance is a crime in the eyes of the occupier’s law— in a nation whose own citizens’ first and last toy is fated to be a gun. To such jaded eyes, a Palestinian resister, whether it be 13-year-old Abdel Raouf al-Bilawi from Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethehem, who was sentenced on January 22 to four months in prison for throwing stones, or 24-year-old journalist and photographer Bushra alTaweel, who was arrested at her home in Um al-Sharyet, Ramallah on the night of November 1, 2017, Palestinians of every
Ahed Tamimi arriving for the beginning of her trial at Ofer military prison in the West Bank, February 13, 2018
By Priti Gulati Cox In 1976, the Palestinian villages of Nabi Saleh and Deir Nidham were encroached upon by Israeli settlers, and their ever-expanding colony of Halamish was born. In December 2009, little Nabi Saleh began holding peaceful demonstrations every Friday in opposition to settlement growth and the usurpation of the land’s fresh water springs. Eight years later, on Friday, December 15, 2017, the residents of Nabi Saleh were protesting US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. During the protest, Israeli occupation forces shot 15-year-old Mohammad Tamimi in the face with a rubber bullet, seriously wounding him. Shortly afterward, Mohammad’s 16-year-old cousin Ahed Tamimi responded by accosting two Israeli soldiers right in front of her home. She reviled, slapped and kicked them in a remarkable act of defiance. By Monday, a video of the confrontation taken by her mother had gone viral worldwide. Ahed has been resisting Israeli occupation since she was nine years old. And she’s not the only one in her family to do so. Her parents have been resisting the occupation for many years, and several members of her extended family have been killed by Israeli troops. Most recently another of her cousins, Musab Firas al-Tamimi of Dier Nidham, was the first teen to be shot and killed by occupation forces earlier this year. In the early hours of December 19, Israeli forces raided Ahed’s home and arrested her. According to her father Bassem Tamimi, it took “at least 30 soldiers” to carry out the raid. When, that afternoon, COMBAT
shape, size, age or gender are being gradually cleansed from their land. A shocking tactic in the ethnic cleansing being carried out by the Israeli military is that they target their “enemy” when they’re young. Bushra al-Taweel, for example, was first arrested on July 6, 2011 when she was just 18 years old. Get them young and then break them. That’s the strategy. This trend—the arrest of Palestinian children by occupation forces—is a rising one. Over the years, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association Addameer has witnessed “a decrease in the overall prison population, but … a vast increase in the number of children being held,” and has found that around “700 Palestinian children under the age of 18 from the occupied West Bank are prosecuted every year through Israeli military courts after being arrested, interrogated and detained by the Israeli army.”
They [the Israeli soldiers] laughed and laughed at me. I told them: ‘You are laughing at us now, but you don’t know that Palestine will be free and we will laugh at you when you leave.’ — Ahed Tamimi Pity the occupier of Palestinians that’s viewing its “enemy” through the barrel of a gun—a barrel-visioned fighting force that never really grew up, or maybe was never even really a child. Is it any wonder that such a force is incapable of distinguishing between a child and an adult? Not that it matters, because whether an adult or a child, each and every occupied Palestinian feels the hot wrath of occupation. Denial of resources like water to Palestinians does not discriminate between the old and the young. It parches them equally. The wall that separates a farmer from his fields does not magically open up when a child approaches it. It sends a message equally. The tear gas that is fired by Israeli forces into Palestinian homes (before they are eventually bulldozed) tortures all who are inside. Even so, attacking and imprisoning children is unconscionable by any International law standards.
We often play, but we get shocked when soldiers enter places of play, therefore they destroy all of our happiness. Children often go to school and encounter locked barricades, so they are forced to
return to their homes…. We often come back from parties and find locked barricades, so that destroys all the joy and happiness we had. — Ahed Tamimi The systematic collective punishment imposed on Palestinians includes arrests, interrogations, house arrest, and zero protection in their formative years. It thereby alienates them from their families and familiar surroundings and disrupts their studies. There are sexual threats aimed at coercing false confessions; deceptive techniques aimed at recruiting informants; psychological and physical torture; slapping, beating, kicking, and denial of food and water for long periods; and, of course, false accusations of terrorism.
While the focus on Ahed Tamimi is important and her commitment is something that we should all admire, it is essential that there is focus on the situation for all children in the occupied Palestinian territory. Ahed Tamimi’s case, and her treatment, is not exceptional; it is, unfortunately, the norm. — Addameer, Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, “Palestinian child prisoner population doubles over last three years,” Jan. 18, 2018. As of 2017, there are 350 children being held in Israel’s prisons. Each of them, as well as each of those who preceded them, is a freedom fighter like Ahed. They all deserve their own embroidered posters and media attention. I leave you with some more of Ahed’s heartbreaking words, arising from a place where the most natural children’s activities—playing, studying—are barricaded, walled and settled. She describes the discovery of lost childhood pleasures under almost unimaginable circumstances: These are the bullets which the soldiers shoot at us (the necklace Ahed is wearing in the embroidered poster.) We collect them after they leave the village. [Touching her necklace Ahed says] These came from my uncle who was martyred. My cousin gave them to me. We make beautiful things out of them, like jewelry. We create life from death. They come to kill us with it, but we convert it into things which we enjoy and benefit from. PAGE SIX
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“A Humanitarian Catastrophe” -the five countries enabling Saudi’s war in Yemen By Al Bawaba In Saudi’s ongoing military intervention in Yemen, Saudi-led blockades have strained access to basic resources like food and water, so much that approximately 70 percent of the country is in serious need of humanitarian assistance. The conflict in Yemen is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi and Iran. Saudi leads an international coalition that backs the President, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, whereas Iran backs the Houthi rebel movement. Saudi Arabia is not alone in its military intervention, the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, and the UAE provide substantial arms and/or logistical support, enabling the oil-rich kingdom to continue its mission, including conducting massive air strikes which Human Rights Watch flag as war crimes. In retaliation for a missile fired from rebel-held territory and suspected to be modified by Iran, Saudi enforced a total blockade for all air and naval ports, preventing critical medical supplies and food from entering the country for a week. Activists in the country are now reporting that a widespread famine with the potential to kill millions is a distinct possibility.
According to Perry Cammack, a Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, there is little reason to hope the war in Yemen will end any time soon. Saudi “lack[s] an exit strategy, which creates a dynamic of steady escalation, at the expense of the Yemeni population.” On top of that, “Yemen is far more important to Saudi Arabia than it is to Iran, so that such escalation has limited utility in pressuring Iran.” In other words, Saudi is stuck in an expensive war that it doesn’t know how to win, and Yemen, according to Cammack sits on the verge of “becoming a humanitarian catastrophe.”
to give $350 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia over the next 10 years; the U.S. notoriously refuels Saudi jets mid air, ensuring its aerial campaign, which has been flagged as a source of war crimes, can maintain a near-constant tempo; and recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a symbolic bill calling the U.S.’ military involvement in Yemen unauthorized
These are the five biggest contributors to Saudi’s war.
Germany:Largely seen as the stronghold of European values, Germany approved a $526 million weapons-export deal to Saudi and Egypt; the deal marks a 500 percent increase in arms exports since last year, and Germany is within the top five arms exporters in the entire world
The United States:- When President Trump visited Saudi in May, he pledged
The United Kingdom:- The U.K. has sold approximately $4.7 billion in arms
to Saudi since its intervention in Yemen began. This roughly reflects a 500 percent increase in the arms dealt to Saudi before its involvement in Yemen, and former Defense Minister Michael Fallon told the U.K. Parliament to refrain from criticizing Saudi Arabia for fear that future arms deals with the kingdom would be jeopardized France:- Approved around $18 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia in 2015: President Macron visited Saudi to address the rising tensions with Iran, Yemen and Lebanon and emphasized the need to work with Saudi despite its promotion of regional and internal instability. During the same visit, Macron reportedly announced a new deal with close Saudi-ally UAE, to sell them two warships The United Arab Emirates:- This is perhaps Saudi’s most reliable and active ally, providing logistical support and training for Yemeni forces, UAE jets have conducted airstrikes, performing “the heaviest air strikes that Sana’a has endured,” as described by one Yemeni official, and the UAE hired ex-Blackwater CEO Erik Prince to raise a force of mercenary Colombians to operate in Yemen, in order to avoid losing Emirati lives
FITUG urges Govt and Opposition co-operation in Venezuela Several issues regarding Venezuela, our neighbouring country, have come to our attention in recent weeks. They have received wide coverage both locally and internationally. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana has followed these recent issues with interest as well, and with concern. At the local level, we have taken note that the festering Guyana-Venezuela border question which has engaged the United Nations’ attention for decades will now be sent to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for determination. The running question has impacted relations between our two (2) countries for decades, and we are hopeful that both countries would ventilate their arguments fully before the ICJ, and that all parties would find the court’s decision regarding Guyana’s existing borders acceptable. This will lead to an enhancement of good neighbourly relations and the establishment of a firm friendship between our peoples. Also, FITUG is not unaware of the difficulties that have dogged Venezuela, and which have been reported widely for some time now. To grapple with the hardships and violence experienced by the Venezuelan masses, we have been encouraged by the steps taken by the MaduCOMBAT
ro Government during the previous year. The democratic/constitutional measures, primarily the resort to holding three different elections and the popular response to them, promised the opening of a way forward. Significantly, too, this approach by the government was strengthened by the opening up of a dialogue between representatives of the Opposition and the Government. These discussions took place in the Dominican Republic, and were mediated by mutually acceptable political personalities. After months of deliberations, an agreement was finally arrived at. New possibilities for Venezuela’s democratic future and its overcoming its economic trials are at hand. It is in this promising context that we learnt with dismay that the Opposition representatives did not proceed to sign on to the agreement reached. This refusal coincided with the unfortunate statement made by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson just before his five-nation tour of Latin America and the Caribbean. In a framework of referring to Venezuela, he drew attention to the military actions/coups in the continent’s troubled history. This statement served to recall experiences of external meddling in the Region’s affairs and bring to mind the ex-
amples of Chile of the early 1970s, and more recently Honduras, among others. The attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan Government of Hugo Chavez can neither be ignored. Of considerable interest is that among the wide-ranging agreement coming out of the Government-Opposition negotiations is a determination to hold early Presidential Elections, and April, 2018 was identified for such. In spite of the Opposition withholding their signature to the agreement, the Maduro Government, from reports, is still committed to the April Presidential elections. We believe that this is yet another step in the right direction with the aim of finding a peaceful resolution to the difficulties facing the country. FITUG considers this step positively. It is democratic and constitutional, and will be involving, in a decisive way, the Venezuelan people. We hope that the holding of free and fair elections gets the support from the international community at this time. Thus we regret and reject those obscurantist voices that seek to undermine this latest measure to grapple with the problems facing our neighbour. It is instructive that among such voices are a few from extra-regional countries which
have an unenviable history in their economic dealings with Latin America and the Caribbean, especially with regard to the extractive industry. We see nothing good coming out from attempts to promote and instigate destablisation of this country, whether for geo-political interests and/or for economic advantages for a select few. We know of the dire and painful consequences of violence and destablisation in other parts of the world. We know, too, that problems of this kind in one country tend to inevitably engulf neighbouring countries. FITUG is wary of this. FITUG is also mindful of the Caribbean countries’ laudable stance for the Region to be a Zone of Peace. This is an incontestable reason, and is indeed strong ground for us to give and voice support for a peaceful, democratic and people-involved solution to Venezuela’s current challenges. We therefore call on those who are encouraging and are engaged in destabilization attempts to desist. Instead, the parties should be encouraged to work toward a peaceful and democratic solution to the problems facing the country at this time. PAGE SEVEN
The Exxon PSA As Guyanese were caught up in the festive period, the Coalition, in the closing days of 2017, succumbed to public pressure and released the agreement it inked with Exxon-Mobil and its partners with respect to the extraction of Guyana’s petroleum resources from the Liza One project. While the Government and Exxon have sought to shine positive light on the agreement, many have asked where is the positivity that is being spoken about. Combat, in its December, 2017 edition, pointed to the massive wealth that is being removed by Exxon and its allies and the crumbs being left for Guyana and Guyanese.
The obligations the Government has placed on Guyanese for years in the future have confirmed, if not exceeded, our worst fears. In the days and weeks that followed the release of the contract, Guyanese have come to the sad realization that they have been shafted, and the lopsided agreement is clearly favourable to one of the planet’s largest and most endowed corporations. It has caused many to ask who were there to represent the interests of our people and our patrimonial wealth. The pittance-like signing bonus of US$18M (G$3.6B) would have been laughable hadn’t the situation not been so serious. Some experts have opined that the bonus should have been between US$380M (G$76B) to US$1B (G$200B). What is clear is that US$18M is grossly inadequate. At the time when the hidden signing bonus came to light, Exxon paid Brazil a few hundred million United States dollars as a signing bonus. The disparity tells us about the effectiveness of the persons charged with representing our nation. But alongside a pitiful bonus, Guyana, really Guyanese, have been given a US$460M bill from Exxon as it seeks to recover its exploratory costs. This sets a dangerous precedent, and other investors may seek similar arrangements in the future. Even of more concern is that there is no sure way to verify that US$460M was actually spent, and whether inadmissible expenses were included. Then there are also the blanket tax-exemptions which rub pepper in the deep wound that has been inflicted on the Guyanese people. Moreover, not Exxon, but the Minister of Natural Resources is charged with addressing Exxon’s taxation issues, a cost which arguably is tantamount to a subsidy to the multinational’s operation. COMBAT
Worst yet is that our Government has agreed not to vary the sweetheart arrangement, and should there be any variations, Exxon is entitled to compensation. There is also the royalty which is 80 per cent below the lower end of the international norm. The Government has boasted about its 50 per cent profit share, but after as much as 75 per cent of revenues are used as cost recovery. In reality the 50 per cent profit share is representative of 12.5 per cent of revenue. But, moreover, given Guyana’s stake and interest, it was unbelievable that our negotiators agreed that we can only visit Exxon operations once per annum, and must give the company a week’s notice before such a visit. This can be likened to putting the cat to watch the milk. Then there is almost silence on local content obligations. In fact, several overseas-based suppliers have set up and are setting-up shop in Guyana, seeming to indicate that foreigners will dominate the Exxon supply chain. It appears from the agreement that there is hardly any guarantee of jobs, whether primary or secondary, from the petroleum industry. Even the possibility for rental of office space by locals to Exxon and its partners seems remote. From all indications, there would hardly be any additional inflows beyond the crumbs our ‘skilled and trained’ negotiators accepted. It is difficult to fathom that a Government worth its salt would bound the present and future generations of Guyanese in such a dreadful deal. As the independent press has been highlighting, Exxon hasn’t had a proud record, and several nations where it operates or had been operating and had promised grandeur of wealth have come to consider those promises as a mirage. As this commentary was being prepared, the Government released the contract with CGX, which was inked by the previous Government in 2014. The contract is also said to be similar to the Exxon agreement, but there is one major fundamental difference, in that when the Exxon agreement was negotiated, it was known that the Company has discovered oil in commercial quantities; whereas, in the CGX negotiation, no oil was discovered. In fact CGX has not as yet been lucky enough to find oil. Clearly, the Government of the day had a stronger hand, but seemed not to have taken advantage of the situation.
Minister Ramjattan being dishonest
The Guyana Times of January 26, 2018 reports Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, as saying in relation to sugar industry that “…probably it was destined to fail. Probably God wanted it that way…” We had to read this section twice, as we simply could not believe that a senior Government official would have made such an unbelievable statement. To invoke the name of the Good Lord to justify what Minister Ramjattan termed “hard decisions” is clearly beyond reprehensible. Moreover, to say the industry was destined to fail says a lot about the leadership of the Coalition Government, and the sincerity of its commitments before the 2015 Elections Campaign. Clearly, Minister Ramjattan is clutching at straws as he seeks to find any ignoble justification to excuse his Government’s
callous approach to the sugar industry. The article made reference to the severance pay, and quotes the Minister as saying “they (GAWU) came up with a suggestion….then we decided all under $500,000 are going to get their full lump sums…”. If the quote is indeed correct, as we did not see it featured in reports appearing in other sections of the media, then the Minister is patently wrong, and misled those present. As GAWU earlier explained over the past days - when the issue of severance payments was raised by the Government delegation when we met - both our Union and NAACIE took an intractable position that the payments to the workers should be made at once. Minister Ramjattan, who was presented at the meeting, knows this, and therefore to say otherwise is dishonest.
Minister Holder cannot wash his hands
The GAWU has recognized from reports appearing in several sections of the media that Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder informed that the GuySuCo is no longer under his charge, following the decision to transfer responsibility of the sugar company to NICIL, which falls under the Ministry of Finance. While our Union did hear about the transfer of GuySuCo, we also recognized recently that Minister Holder was speaking to matters concerning GuySuCo. Just about two (2) weeks ago, Minister Holder was reported in the February 06, 2018 Guyana Times speaking about the Wales cane cutters’ demand for severance. If it is that the Minister was not in charge then, why did he not inform the press to seek an audience with the relevant Minister, in this case Minister of Finance Winston Jordan. The GAWU sees Minister Holder’s sudden and obviously belated announcement being linked to a picketing exercise outside of his Ministry by the affected cane cutters of Wales Estate on February 21, 2018, who are demanding that their severance payments be honoured. It seems that the workers’ spir-
ited and vociferous picketing probably got under the Minister’s skin, and thus his quick resort to the media. Though Minister Holder is no longer responsible, he cannot wash his hands when it comes to this matter. He was, since August, 2017, asked by President David Granger to respond to the workers’ call for their severance. Though having clear instruction from President Granger, Minister Holder had never responded to the workers’ demand, until a few weeks ago, when he said that the matter has to be addressed by the Judiciary. Even though the GAWU did appropriately respond to Minister Holder’s misguided contentions, he, even at that late stage, did not see it fit to advise that he should not be speaking on matters concerning GuySuCo. The fact that the Minister is now ignominiously seeking to extricate himself says a lot about the respect he has for the workers. It clearly seems that the Minister only responds to determined and collective demands, as shown by the February 21, 2018 demonstration by the workers of Wales. PAGE EIGHT
IUF condemns estate closures address their future employment and protect their welfare”. They deemed the decision to pay the workers their severance payments in installments as “heartless”. The Regional Committee said it recognized that “sugar industry…represents an important pillar of the Guyanese economy and plays a manifold role in the society”, and “…is capable of surmounting its present challenges and can play an even more significant role in Guyana”.
The IUF meeting, by all accounts, was a success, and provided the organization with a first-hand look at the despairing situation that too many people face arising from ill-considered and clearly ill-thought-out decisions. In Guyana, the IUF has three affiliates – the GAWU, the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE), and the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU)
President’s message does not provide a hopeful picture
The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), which held its Caribbean Regional Executive Committee meeting in Guyana on January 18 and 19, 2018, has condemned the decision by the Government and its Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) to minimize the sugar industry through estate closure and sellout. Our Union – the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) – has been keeping the IUF abreast of the developments in the sugar industry and the difficulties the workers have been confronting. GAWU’s President, Komal Chand, during his remarks at the Opening Session of the meeting on January 18, 2018 shared that the workers, their families and their communities faced uncertain times. IUF Regional Secretary, Clifton Grant urged the workers to remain strong and continue to wage their struggle. He lamented the severance pay fiasco ,and urged that the Government and the sugar company abide by the relevant legislation. He shared, too, that private ownership of the Jamaican sugar industry has seen many of the workers’ gains rolled back, and today the workers have found themselves in a worse off state. IUF General Secretary Sue Longley, in her remarks, expressed displeasure over the mass retrenchment exercise, and pledged the IUF’s support to the workers and their organisations. The Regional Committee, which comprises Trade Unionists from Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Bermuda, and Switzerland, engaged a large number of workers of Skeldon Estate in the afternoon of January 18, 2018. During that exercise, they learnt of the sad and painful state the workers and their families find themselves now-a-days. During that engagement, the workers pointed COMBAT
out that their monies are becoming exhausted and they are having difficulties to meet their financial obligation. Some expressed their concern in meeting especially their payments to the banks, andsaid they are worried that their properties may be repossessed. They shared with the visitors the effects the situation is having on their children, and said if things remain the way they are, they may be forced to withdraw their children from school. The visitors were very touched, and moved by the workers’ situation, and committed to stand with them in these hard times. They expressed their solidarity with the workers, and urged them not to become despondent but to continue to fight on as only through struggle they would succeed. During the plenary session on January 19, 2018, the Trade Unionists expressed their disquiet and dismay regarding the situation in the sugar industry, and more so the plight of the workers. In the afternoon of January 19, 2018, they met with Minister within the Ministry of Social Protection, Keith Scott, and conveyed their upset with the Government’s approach to the sugar industry. They shared with the Minister about their engagement with the Skeldon workers and their deep dismay about what is taking place. They urged the Government, through Minister Scott, to quickly arrest the steadily declining situation and ease the woes being faced by thousands of Guyanese across the sugar belt. The Regional Committee also unanimously approved a resolution in solidarity with the workers and their Unions. In that resolution, among other things, the IUF said the closure of estates has “placed livelihoods of many Guyanese at grave risk, and urge that the closure decision be reconsidered”. They strongly condemned “the callous decision to send home thousands of sugar workers without any plan to
The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has taken note of President David Granger’s message on the payment of redundancy to the 4,000 displaced sugar workers. The message confirmed the worst fears of many workers - that their full redundancy payments would not be honoured in a timely manner. For many of the thousands of families affected, the receipt of those payments is critical to their sustenance at this sorrowful time. We recognize President Granger has said only half of the workers’ entitlements would be available by the end of January, 2018, and the remainder sometime in the second half of 2018. It is apt to note that the workers’ redundancy payments are a legal requirement, and were due in full on December 29, 2017.
The GAWU also recognized that the President’s commitment is different from that of his Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder. The January 10, 2018 Guyana Chronicle reports that Minister Holder said the Government “has given assurances that the hundreds of workers made redundant at the end of December, 2017 will receive their severance pay by the end of January 2018”. This only adds to the confusion of what is clearly an upsetting and depressing situation. This type of confusion, or game-playing, seems to be characteristic of this Coalition Government, and certainly, does not do the distressed workers any good. President Granger’s message pointed out that the Government is finding difficulty to accumulate the funds required to offset the severance payments, though the Administration was aware for some months that the monies had to be found for such payments. But for the sugar workers, who last received earnings on December 29, 2017, the repainting perfectly good buildings or building impressive fences as well as other extravagances do not seem to illustrate there is a lack of finances. The President pointed to the sums
that the Government had invested in the industry in recent times. Two-thirds of that expenditure took place during his term of office. That fact of notoriety, we believe, should have leapt out at him and cause him to question why sugar production has slumped 40 per cent during the period of the Coalition Government, especially at a time when employment costs have fallen by 15 per cent in the same period. From the message, we also gleaned that just 100, or 2.5 per cent of the displaced workers, would benefit from training programmes that are organized. In terms of the sum of $100M being made available to workers for the pursuit of other economic endeavours, this is equivalent to a measly $25,000 per displaced worker. Such sum, we contend, is hardly sufficient to engage in any serious economic activity. That sum is even inadequate to get off the ground the heavily touted plantain chip and cookup rice endeavours. We dismayingly recognized, too, that largely nothing was said about the work of the Sugar Special Purpose Unit (SPU), except to speak to its establishment. We cannot help but wonder whether this Unit’s work will still be pursued, and to what extent. Expectedly, the President’s message should have provided a little more clarity in this regard, especially given previous pronouncements. The President’s approach, through a message to the National Assembly, to communicate what is depressing news, we note, is different from his predecessors. While we accept that each leader will have his or her own style, for the thousands that are affected by the callous sugar plans, it only aggravates the deep wounds that have been inflicted. It is time that the President and his Administration walk the villages, engage the workers and their families, and tell them what plans his Government has for them.
The burdens on the backs of workers are steadily getting heavier - FITUG
In recent months, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUG), through its affiliates, has been hearing, with increasing regularity, workers’ concerns regarding the cost-of-living. Many workers have pointed out that now-adays they have taken the difficult decisions to reduce the size and make-up of their baskets, in order to live within their means. It is indeed disheartening that the situation has reached the point at which the working-people and other social strata of society are in effect facing a reduction of their standard-of-living. Worse yet, it seems that the Administration, which would have access to the data and, undoubtedly, knowledge of the situation, has, from all appearances, turned a blind eye to the pressing difficulties our working-people and their families are facing at this time.
Cost of food The FITUG has observed that the prices of several staple and important commodities are also on the rise. Just weeks ago, the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) announced that it increased its prices by 5 per cent. We saw in the press that the price of rice has also risen. Separately, using data from the New Guyana Marketing Corporation with respect to Stabroek Market, FITUG has noted that between January, 2016 and January, 2018:-
the price of squash has gone up by 84 per cent; eggs by 36 per cent; cabbage by 33 per cent; cassava by 25 per cent; boulangers by 11 per cent; bora by 8 per cent, among other things. In terms of other goods, the FITUG doesn’t have ready data at hand, and information available from the Bureau of Statistics website is dated. Bearing those factors in mind, we will be closely observing prices, but we hold the view it is not hard to imagine that there have been other increases in prices in recent times. Utility costs The Federation is aware at this time, through press reports, that the Guyana Water Inc (GWI) is seeking the approval of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for a hike in water rates, an introduction of a fixed fee, as well as increases in other fees charged by the state-operated enterprise. From the press, we see the GWI seeking that unmetered residential COMBAT
consumers, for instance, be made to pay $1,500 per month plus $500 as a fixed fee. It must be noted that these consumers will now be required to pay VAT on their water usage, and thus will have to fork out a further $280.
When taken together, an unmetered water consumer is asked to find $18,456 more per year for the provision of water. For a public servant, for instance, at the basement level, the increase in the water rates alone is equivalent to 31 per cent of the pitiful pay rise they received in 2017. For the old-aged pensioner, though exempted from the fixed charge, the proposed water rate hike is 194 per cent of the miserable increase the Government approved in the 2018 Budget. Quite ex-
on its lowest-priced service by as much as 40 per cent, and hiked landline rates by 33 per cent in the last year.
The FITUG recall, too, that the phone company also increased several other charges payable by business, which is to some extent being borne by the workers. Increased and possible increases in rates and taxes Added to those woes, workers also have to find extra sums for rates and taxes. Already, some workers who reside in Georgetown have been asked to pay additional sums for rates and taxes this year. As far as FITUG is aware, there has been no official announcement of such increases, but citizens are confronted with a higher bill when they visit City Hall to address their payments. Added to this
Today’s increases, unfortunately, cannot be looked at in isolation, as there has been the steady increasing of the working-people’s burdens. FITUG recalls the 2017 Budget-imposed VAT on electricity and water; the reduced number of VAT-exempted and zero-rated items which affected medical supplies and services and treatments, among others; intrdouction of an environmental tax; the increased costs of passports; fees introduced for TIN certificates, as well as massively increased the costs for a number of licences, fees and penalties. Those burdens came on top of those introduced in the 2016 Budget, when about one hundred and forty (140) taxes were increased, some as high as 1,200 per cent. Then we cannot forget about the doubling of the Demerara Harbour Bridge tolls, and the intention to re-introduce parking meters in the city. It is not difficult to conclude that today’s working-people have found proveribally themselves between a rock and a hard place.
While the Government is quick to point to pay rises, nearly half of those increases have been absorbed on just two (2) items – water rates and refuse collection
pectedly for metered customers, the increases will be similar, if not higher. We also recognize the GWI is seeking higher commercial rates from businesses which will naturally be passed on to the consumer. We also note disturbingly too, that there is no need for the proposed increases, and all that is required is for the GWI to get its act together and collect rates from all of its consumers. The GWI’s seemingly unconscionable approach to pressure the paying public is unbecoming. Furthermore, we fail to see how the touted increases would correct the inequity the entity’s CEO says he is seeking to put right. From all appearances, it seems to be widening the rift more than anything else. The application by GWI comes not too long after:-
GTT increased internet fees
seemingly ‘mysterious increase’ is:-
The impending garbage collection fee which we read of in the press and which could amount to $10,400 per annum, which is 17 per cent of the 2017 increase in the public sector minimum wage, or 173 per cent of the increase in the Old Age pension. Additionally, in various areas, city citizens are already paying to weed their parapets and clean their drains. For those who live outside of Georgetown, they fare no better, and looming over them also is an increase in rates and taxes that would follow the property re-valuation exercise announced in the 2018 Budget.
When everything is taken together, those miserly increases clearly become nothing more than a few drops in an ever rising cost-of-living ocean. For the thousands who are made jobless in the sugar industry and elsewhere, we are scared to imagine the hardships they and theirs confront day-to-day. The promise of an oil bonanza seems to be wishful thinking at this point. Moreover, to predicate our hopes, dreams and aspirations on this industry could very well see our beloved nation being deemed a ‘banana republic’. But even if a bonanza is realized, can Guyanese bear the pressures until oil production begins?
The FITUG believes that the time is long past for the Government to proactively address the situation, lest the gains our nation recorded in removing thousands out of poverty are rolled back. Such a situation is not in the interest of anyone. PAGE TEN
Wales cane-cutters pressing severance pay call
Cane cutters from Wales Estate that was closed for more than a year ago, in recent weeks, have staged picketing exercises outside of the Ministries of the Presidency and Agriculture, as well as the High Court. The picketers represent the 350-odd cane cutters who have been made redundant due to an ill-considered and callous closure of the estate, and who have been denied their legally-entitled severance payments since the estate was closed in December, 2016. The Wales workers were the first victims of the Government’s heartless plans to minimize, irrationally, the sugar industry, and who are being pressured by the state-owned Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) to take up work at Uitvlugt Estate, more than 20 miles away from Wales. GuySuCo’s demand on the workers travelling to Uitvlugt is contrary to the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA). The GAWU, recognizing the sugar company’s intransigence, and in an effort to protect the beleaguered workers’ rights, was forced to take the issue to Court in March, 2017 for judicial determination. Dismayingly, despite the importance of the matter and representations by the Union’s Attorney-at-Law, several months have gone by and a date for the hearing is still to be fixed by the High Court. The workers recently wrote President COMBAT
David Granger, seeking his intervention towards having the Corporation settle its legitimate obligations to them. This is the second time in recent months that the workers have written to President Granger. The President, in his initial response, had committed that Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder would examine their matter and they would hear from him. Several months went by and the workers, having not heard from Minister Holder, decided to write the President once again. So far, the President has yet to respond to the worker’s second correspondence, though he is known for responding in a timely manner. The workers remain hopeful that they would hear positively from President Granger, especially in view of the severe challenges they have faced and are facing since the estate closed at the end of 2016. The workers are also aware, through press reports, that Minister Holder expressed the view that the matter should be determined by the Judiciary. This course, the workers contend, is needless, especially given the unambiguity in the relevant legislation. The workers see the Minister’s expression as trampling on their rights, and as a means to deny them what they are rightly entitled to. The GAWU believes it is still not too late for the Minister to right the wrong. We urge that the Minister has knowledge-
able, credible and unbiased persons carefully examine the matter. Such an examination, we believe, would be useful and demonstrate the justness in the workers ‘call. The workers are also disturbed that GuySuCo CEO (a.g.), Paul Bhim is reported in the press as stating that should the workers fail to report to Uitvlugt Estate, though it is beyond the lawful radius set out in the Act, they would have been deemed as self-terminated. The workers were very upset, having learnt of Mr Bhim’s comments, and see it as another ploy to pressure them to take up work at Uitvlugt, even though there isn’t sufficient work for them and the cane-cutting workforce of that estate. The situation at Wales is steadily deteriorating, and the people and communities are facing trying and difficult times. The workers and the GAWU recall that the Government and GuySuCo, in glowing terms, spoke about plans to make Wales the launching pad for its non-sugar diversification. Though we warned about the dismaying results the Corporation realized during its last foray, the Administration and the Corporation pressed ahead. Today, we see that those plans have been abandoned, and the shortlived, poor-result seed paddy fields that were cultivated are being slowly overrun
by bush and vines, according to the February 18, 2018 Guyana Times. And the people remain the hapless victims. Worse yet, the possibilities of resuming sugar production at Wales remain challenging as many important factory components have been removed and were installed in other estates. It is to be recalled that GuySuCo, in announcing Wales’ closure, had said that the factory was old, but many of those components were installed in other factories and they performed well. Today a large void has been left at the communities that were linked with the now closed estate. Many of the hundreds who were employed remain jobless, and those who secure jobs, generally on a temporary basis, find their earnings far less than what they earned when they worked at Wales. The future for the people, especially the youth, is not encouraging. It is difficult to imagine the hardships that would befall the people in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Many wonder every day if this is the ‘Good Life’ they were promised. The Government, as the protector of the people, needs to provide appropriate financial support to allow the people to face up to these challenges and to overcome the difficulties brought about by the sad and wrong decision to close Wales Estate.
Times getting tougher in the sugar belt
(The following statement was read by ex-sugar workers at a press conference hosted by the GAWU on their behalf on February 14, 2018) We, the workers present here today, represent the overwhelming majority, if not all, of the workers and the thousands of Guyanese who have been affected by the ill-considered plans to reduce the sugar industry through the closure of estates in the last two (2) years. At this time, the real situation shows that misery of the affected is worsening by the day. Workers simply do not know what to do. We spend our days moving from street to street, village to village, and business to business, seeking jobs. Some of us have looked far and wide, but simply cannot find a job or one with pay that you can survive on. Even some workers who have secondary and technical education have found securing a job difficult. And in those per chance instances where workers do manage to find a job, they confront the stark reality that it is temporary and their wages are far below what they earned in the sugar industry. With payable jobs we could walk with our heads held high, but today the pride we felt has all but gone. Now-a-days, too, housewives have a hard and difficult task to make do with what is available, and what is there is really not much. Today, the children of all ages are becoming aware that their education may be cut short, as they may have to leave school and accept the sad prospect that their dreams for life have to be forgotten. Today, some young girl children may have to be married at tender ages, as their families simply may not afford to take care of them. This is the sad reality that faces the people of the sugar belt. While some workers are receiving their full severance payments and others half, those sums can by no means support a family for more than a few months. In some families, husband and wife worked at the estate, and for them the blow has been doubly harsh. At this time, workers simply do not know what would happen next. For many younger workers, who have now begun adult life and have secured mortgages to build homes, some
even having young children, the situation is even more dire. For them, they would have just a few years of service, and thus their severance entitlements would be nominal. They are now faced with sleepless nights as they wonder how to meet those obligations, or whether their properties would be taken from them and they and their families left homeless. For older workers, they wonder who would hire them when they are not too far away from pensionable age. They who have given their best years to the sugar industry and worked hard to reach many of life’s goals now confront the sad reality they have to start over their working-life. Their dreams to reach aged sixty (60) in the sugar industry and to enjoy the fruits of their years of labour have been pulled like a rug from under their feet. We are hard-working people who have been reduced to hapless victims. It is disturbing that the Government, which sent large delegations a few days ago to meet with workers, came empty-handed. The visitors, it seems, came just to make speeches filled with sweet words and to take photographs. Not one of them took the time to walk the villages and see the evident deterioration which has stepped into the communities; to look us in our eyes and to explain to us why they took such terrible decisions; and to visit our homes, to see firsthand the paucity of rations, and the hardships we and our families face. The visitors left more quickly than when they arrived in their fancy, air-conditioned vehicles, to go back to their homes far away from the suffering they have created. As they say: out of sight, out of mind. It is indeed disturbing that some of these people came to us not long ago and told us they would make our lives better, that they would give us 20 per cent pay increases, that they would rescue the sugar industry, and that they would protect our jobs. Today, these people tell us God wanted the industry to close, and they had to make hard decisions. We wonder whether these people have a heart and a conscience. We know that the Government has said it wants to work with our Union to take us out of the troubles we face. We know
that the GAWU and the NAACIE have told the Government to reopen the estates and put us back to work. This is what we want, and we support our Union. But we want to tell the Government time is of essence. We know, too, the Government said that it wants to sell the estate. As workers, we do not think this is best decision, as many of our hard won benefits would, very likely, be taken away. Our Union, we know, has told the Government that should the estates be sold, then our rights must be respected and certain important benefits upheld. At this time, ladies and gentlemen of the media, general conditions for us are growing tougher. Our little monies we have are reducing steadily and surely, and
our severance pay cannot last very long. We want to work, to produce and to earn. Our Union is standing by our side in this difficult time, and we are very thankful for their support. We, at the same time, are supportive of our Union’s efforts, as they try in every possible way to make our lives whole again. We know that some people maybe are upset by our Union’s actions in our interest, but we want to tell them that the GAWU is taking the right steps. We want to tell all workers, too, they should not be carried away by those who seek to divide us. Their actions are not in our interest, and we should continue to stand together as we wage our struggle for a better tomorrow.
Redundant sugar workers you can still receive an NIS pension Employees whose NIS contributions have not reached 750 would not be eligible to receive an NIS Old Age Pension on the attainment of age sixty (60). Thousands of sugar workers who were stripped of their jobs by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) and the Government of Guyana stand to be deprived of a pension. Those workers who are seeking to obtain fresh and regular employment, if they are unsuccessful, however, could add to their NIS contributions if by the time they reach pensionable age their additional contributions would aggregate to 750. To do this, they would need to register as a voluntary contributor to the Scheme. The NIS Regulations deems a voluntary contributor as a person who is over 16 but under 60 years old; is a resident of Guyana; ceases to make contributions as an employee or self-employed; and has paid at least one hundred (100) contributions. To become registered, the worker would
need to approach the respective NIS office to obtain a Certificate of Voluntary Insurance. It should be noted that workers have up to 52 weeks (one year) after their last NIS contribution from their employer to obtain the certificate. Currently, the rate of voluntary contributions is 9.3 per cent of the worker’s insurable earnings, as determined from the last two years of their employment. For example, if a worker had been earning an average $18,000 per week during two (2) years prior to his redundancy, he would be required to pay $1,674 weekly to the NIS as a voluntary contributor. It must be noted that a voluntary contributor is entitled to no other benefit than Old Age Pension; and should he pass away before his spouse, his widow would receive Survivors Benefit from the Scheme. In the case where a widower survives his wife who was a voluntary contributor, he would be eligible for Survivors Benefit.
COMBAT IS A PUBLICATION OF THE GUYANA AGRICULTURAL & GENERAL WORKERS UNION (GAWU) 59 HIGH STREET & WIGHTS LANE, KINGSTON, GEORGETOWN, GUYANA, S.A. TEL: 592-227-2091/2; 225-5321 , 223-6523 FAX: 592-227-2093 EMAIL: INFO@GAWUGY.COM WEBSITE: WWW.GAWUGY.COM
Published on Feb 28, 2018