GAWU holds out hope for reopening of sugar estates

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The closed Wales Sugar Estate

The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers’ Union (GAWU) appeared to be holding out hope that the new government will honour its campaign pledge to reopen the closed sugar estates. And in a letter on Monday the union said it was heartened by President Ifaan Ali’s remarks during his inauguration on the subject.

Although the PPP/C had promised to reopen the estates, many citizens have seen it as a cheap campaign promise. Economists have also warned about reopening the estates and even the new Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha said a study needs to be conducted first before any reopening.

In letter to the editor on Monday GAWU said it was pleased to see President Dr Irfaan Ali spending a few moments, during his inauguration address, to speak about the sugar industry. “Indeed, the President adequately summed up the situation in the industry which, we hold, was glaringly ignored and sidelined by the past regime. Our Union is on record in expressing our dismay as it regarded the callous manner in which the former Administration cast aside the industry and the several thousand who depended on its operations. As the August 10, Stabroek News revealed former workers of Rose Hall Estate have still yet to recover from the closure now almost three (3) years ago.”

The union added that it is not to say that the Coalition was not warned. “Our Union, among others including President Ali, had warned of the ramifications of the cold-hearted decision. But for our chorus of voices, the APNU+AFC simply chose to ignore the obvious and plunge headlong into the minimisation of the industry without even the slightest clues of how it would address the economic and social fallout. Their actions which can only be described as heartless have set back the well-being of thousands.”


According to GAWU, certainly thousands who have been plunged into hardship and misery, were most heartened to hear of the Government’s commitment to bring back semblance to their lives. “For them, the days and weeks since closure are probably the most difficult they have faced in their lives and ones they wish never to endure again. We recognize that re-opening will not be a quick process and the Government has a great deal of work to do. We have learnt that several movable assets were sold at fire sale prices and equipment and buildings were allowed to fall into disrepair. The conditions of the abandoned cane fields are yet another steep challenge. But as experience and time have shown, where there is a will there is a way. Our Union is hopeful that the process can commence in earnest at soonest and some degree of normalcy and hope can be restored.”
Speaking during his inauguration President Ali referring to the sugar industry as the bedrock of this nation said it has been made to suffer untold hardship. “Once proud men who worked in the sugar industry from sun-up to sun down, never complaining about the back-breaking nature of their jobs, are today barely scratching a living. Their anguish is not only that they can’t earn a decent wage; it is that they cannot feed their families.” He said these conditions do not reflect the Guyana in which we were raised; this is not the Guyana we know. And, it is certainly not a Guyana we should allow to continue.

“The sugar industry has virtually been abandoned in the past five years, and the workers have been deserted. No attempt has been made to seek a new path by which aspects of the industry could be salvaged for the production of profitable sugar-based niche products, that would maintain jobs, and by doing so maintain the dignity of labour. While we are still putting together the torn fragments, the picture of the industry appears deeply distressing. The assets of GuySuCo seem to have been stripped by NICIL in and disposed of in a criminal manner,” Ali told the gathering.

He said the once greatest contributor to our nation’s economy, has been beaten down to its knees, and the workers tossed to a heap of unemployment and misery. “We intend to raise up the industry and to help it, and its workers resume the once proud place in our economy. It is bad enough that I must draw your attention to the sore in the sugar industry that has been allowed to fester – neglected and forsaken. But, sadly, it is not the only sector of our economy where workers have suffered from poor policies of the previous administration that even more poorly implemented. The workers bore the brunt of this incompetence, inefficiency and irresponsibility. My Government will dismantle the policies of the previous administration that created an environment completely unfavourable to workers.”

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