The 19th Delegates’ Congress of the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU), held under the theme, “Advancing Social Development through Greater Workers’ Democracy” ended successfully as delegates and observers, comprising members’ representatives of the Union’s fourteen (14) bargaining units, wrapped up the Congress on Tuesday, August 18, 2009 at the J.C. Chandisingh Secondary School, Port Mourant, Berbice.
The Congress was addressed and declared opened by Dr Freek B. Schiphorst, Senior Lecturer of the Institute of Social Sciences in the Hague, Netherlands on Saturday, August 15, 2009 at the Guyana International Conference Centre. Dr Schiphorst spoke of the current global crisis and its impact on the world, particularly on developing countries and the working-class populations.
The Congress attracted delegates from fraternal unions namely:- Dr Roodal Moonilal representing the All Trinidad General Workers Union (ATGWU), Jorge Chullen representing the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Association (IUF), Carmen Cedeno representing the Cuban Trade Union Central (CTC), Sherlyn Mitchell representing the Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU) and Lambert Brown representing the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU) of Jamaica.
President Bharrat Jagdeo, in his remarks acknowledged that there has been mismanagement among other factors that have affected the sugar industry. He also noted that Government’s huge investments to build the new Skeldon Factory and Packaging Plant at Enmore, represent a significant commitment on the part of the government to ensure the viability of the sugar industry. President Jagdeo called on workers to adhere to the Grievance Procedure before taking strike action. He noted that workers need to pull their weight to get back to over 300,000 tonnes sugar production per year and called on them to play their part in propelling the industry.
The President of GAWU, Cde Komal Chand, in his address, pointed to a number of improvements in the country since the Union’s 18th Congress in 2006. However, he noted that many challenges have been brought about by industrialisation and globalization and called for actions to assist workers and society generally in confronting them. He expressed the Union’s disappointment over the further delay of regional and local government elections as the delays are hindering community development.
On unity in the trade union movement, he pointed out that FITUG gave its full support to Sir Leroy Trotman of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), who acted as mediator towards reconciling the two (2) umbrella bodies and noted that the Guyana Trade Union Congress (GTUC) refused to interact with FITUG, claiming that FITUG does not exist.
On the Sugar Industry, Cde Chand noted that decline in sugar production over the past four (4) years was primarily a result of the mismanagement of the industry by the Management Contractor – Booker-Tate and referred to the Commission of Inquiry on East Demerara Estate which confirmed gross neglect of the cultivation. Cde Chand supported the sudden termination of the Booker-Tate contract last March.
Delegates and Observers also listened to the indroduction of the sixty-nine (69) page Report of the General Council presented by the Union’s General Secretary, Cde Seepaul Narine which covered relevant developments and happenings in the international, regional and local spheres and the Union’s stewardship towards its members since the 18th Congress of the Union three (3) years ago.
At the conclusion of the voluminous Report delegates were engaged for almost two (2) hours in discussions after which, the Report was unanimously adopted.
Emanating from the General Council’s Report, five Workshops were organized. Their recommendations will formulate strategies for representation in the ensuing months.
Fourteen (14) Resolutions also received the full support of Congress. They dealt with Education and Training, Local Government Elections, Climate Change, Unity of the Working Class, NIS, the Sugar Industry, Income Tax Threshold, Divestment of Health Centres, Ex-Gratia Pension, EU Price Cut and Accompanying Measures, Annual Production Incentive (API), Compensation from Booker-Tate, Outsourcing and Guysuco Turnaround Plan.
Congress also elected a fifty-two (52) member General Council to oversee the administration of the Union for the next three (3) years.
Twenty-five Union members who gave long and dedicated service and helped to advance and defend the interests of the Union, were appropriately honoured by Congress.
The President of the Union, in his Charge, at the conclusion of Congress thanked the delegates for their unstinted support to the Union. He sounded the call to strengthen unity among the working-class in Guyana. He urged greater fraternity of the working people worldwide and called union activists to strengthen the Union to better place it to more effectively represent its general membership.