The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) successfully staged a Conference under the theme “Workers Unity and Solidarity Paramount Now!” on (Sunday) February 07, 2015 at the Albion Sports Complex, Berbice. The Conference attracted 190 delegates from Skeldon, Albion, Rose Hall and Blairmont Estates. A similar Conference was held in December, 2015. These Conferences are in preparation for the Union’s 21st Congress scheduled for August this year. Seven (7) leading Union members from Wales Estate also attended the Conference.
The Conference’s high-point was the presentation of the General Council Report which was presented by the Union’s General Secretary. The events since the 20th Congress, over three (3) years ago, were highlighted in the two (2) hour address. The proposed closure of Wales Estate, the half-pay Annual Production Incentive (API) award and the denial of Collective Bargaining process in settling workers’ pay rise claim for 2015 were naturally part of the Report.
Following the presentation of the Report, a number of delegates took the floor. In their contributions, solidarity flowed for the workers and residents of Wales Estate. They expressed the need to continue various actions to have the outstanding wage rise claim being addressed and to persuade the Ministry of Social Protection to resolve the API dispute. Other matters of significance to the delegates related to the National Insurance Scheme; the denial of fair pay for field work during the out-of-crop period; the condemnation of many of the GuySuCo Commission of Inquiry (CoI) recommendations, especially from the Industrial Relations section of the Report. They expressed eagerness to ensure that hard-won rights spanning many decades would be guarded from being hijacked as seen in several CoI recommendations.
Also addressing the Conference, were three (3) of the Wales workers who were guests of the Conference. They expressed their appreciation to their Berbice counterparts for their solidarity action. They also explained about the serious consequences of the decision, if it is pursued, will have on the workers and the residents of Wales Estate. The addresses were well received and they received a standing ovation and high applause from the delegates.
Resolutions which were unanimously approved with respect to Education and Training, on Unity of the Working Class, Wage/Salary increases and API for 2015, the National Insurance Scheme, and the denial by GuySuCo of lorries to transport delegates to the Conference. A resolution was also passed regarding the closure of any estate and the expected sellout/privatisation of the sugar industry and another expressing solidarity with the Wales Estate workers and residents.
Delegates at the Conference have returned to their respective workplaces imbued with a reinvigorated spirit and determination to continue to weld stronger unity and solidarity among themselves, to forge ahead with their struggles for an urgent settlement of their API dispute, the opening of purposeful negotiations, though already late, on their 2015 wage/salary claim and to continue the struggle in support of the Wales workers and residents.
From all accounts, the Berbice Area Conference of GAWU was a genuine workers forum and it concluded successfully.