The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) are perplexed by the highly misleading statements and comments which have been made by the Guyana Sugar Corporation Inc (GuySuCo) with regards to the closure of the LBI Sugar Factory in May, 2011 and the Corporation’s planned closure within this year of the existing LBI operations. Those operations consist of:- the field workshop, mill dock, field lab, stores and administrative offices. The Corporation’s spokespersons are struggling to portray to the public that the two (2) Unions since 2011 have agreed to address the closure of LBI’s current operations. GuySuCo’s CEO, Errol Hanoman, according to the April 19, 2016 edition of the Guyana Chronicle, said:- “We wish to emphasise that GAWU and NAACIE were fully involved in these activities, and must have been aware that the process will have to be completed; so why the objection now? The unions should have clamoured for the integration to be completed properly since 2011, as this would have reduced cost and improved the chances of securing employment,” Hanoman said. “So, apart from closing the LBI factory, nothing else was done.”
The decision to close the LBI sugar factory was a fait accompli when GuySuCo invited our Unions in February and March, 2011 to discuss the effects of the closure of the factory as it pertained to the future employment status of the workers who were engaged in the factory. GuySuCo’s invitation to our Unions dated February 07, 2011 read inter alia “the Corporation has decided to merge the LBI factory with the EHP factory after the closure of the current crop at LBI”. It should be noted that the invitation was specific to the LBI factory as distinct from the other operations at LBI.
The Unions were engaged in meetings with GuySuCo’s officials on February 22, March 04 and March 11, 2011. GuySuCo was represented by the General Manager of Agriculture, Raymond Sangster; General Manager of Technical Services, Yusuf Abdul, and its then Human Resources Director, Jairam Petam. GAWU and NAACIE were represented by Seepaul Narine and Kenneth Joseph, respectively, among others. The meetings addressed the fate of the one hundred and thirty-seven (137) workers falling within the bargaining unit of GAWU and fifty-six (56) who were represented by NAACIE, a total of one hundred and ninety-three (193). GuySuCo and the two (2) Unions interviewed every one of these workers resulting in seventy (70) workers deployed to the Enmore Sugar Factory and the then newly-constructed Packaging Plant at Enmore. Seventeen (17) workers opted for early retirement. The remaining one hundred and six (106) workers between GAWU and NAACIE were approved for deployment right at LBI to work in the field workshop, mill dock, field lab, stores and administrative offices.
The Corporation was questioned about the LBI Field Operations and the other activities at LBI within the compound and at the meeting of March 04, 2011, the Human Resources Director and his team clarified that “It is a company’s decision that no other job will be affected. LBI agriculture will remain as is. The power house will continue to function to provide power to GuySuCo Agricultural Research Unit, the other head office annexes at LBI, the residential compound, the administrative offices and the pump stations”. It was further made clear that no one in agriculture will be affected and that the future of the East Demerara Estate is not uncertain. The only difference is that the LBI canes will go to Enmore.
The General Manager of Technical Services provided the details on the deployment of workers from LBI to Enmore factory/packaging plant, those that will be retained in the LBI powerhouse and those that will be considered for early retirement.
In all the discussions with the Corporation there was no mention of the clerical and supervisory staff in the local accounts office, since there was a clear understanding in the preliminary meeting that only the factory employees – rank and file, supervisory and senior management will be affected.
It is worthy to note that the cultivation of LBI was not closed nor miniaturized. Hence the retention and enhancement of the LBI operations. To this day the large size of the cultivation of 2,800 hectares remains under cane cultivation. Anxiously, we ask at this time: Is the closure of the LBI operations signaling the closure of the LBI cultivation?
GuySuCo also said in that “the Enmore factory manning levels were inflated to accommodate the LBI factory workers”. This is a baseless assertion. The seventy (70) workers sent to Enmore Estate were based on vacancies which existed especially within the newly-constructed Packaging Plant.
The claim that the LBI workers also work at Enmore Estate is not incorrect. It is not unusual for workers from one Estate do assist in the work of another Estate. In such cases the itinerant workers receive a disturbance allowance. That allowance is presently received by the LBI workers whenever they are required to work at the Enmore Estate.
Coming on the heels of the blundered decision to close Wales Estate which employs some 1,700 workers and crushes the canes grown by about 800 farmers, the expected jeopardy of the work status of 800 LBI workers, the sugar industry will be, clearly, further affected. It is also clear to us – the Unions – that GuySuCo is not giving the public all the relevant facts and also seeking to cover another misguided step by attempting to denigrate the Unions.
Seepaul Narine Kenneth Joseph
General Secretary – GAWU General Secretary – NAACIE