Georgetown: President David Granger, along with members of Cabinet, Friday , met with the President and members of the Guyana Agricultural and Workers’ Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) at the Ministry of the Presidency to discuss the future of the sugar industry. After more than two hours of discussions, the parties were able to find common ground and the Unions agreed to fully cooperate with the Government to find a solution, which can benefit all stakeholders.
President Granger, who addressed members of the Union said that this is the start of talks between the two sides so that an agreement can be reached at the earliest possible time. The Head of State noted that this is the time for all stakeholders to come together, putting aside all prejudices and partisan interests and work for the national good.
“This is a national matter. It is not a partisan one. It involves human beings, households and families. We are conscious of the foresighted nature and we cannot ignore the context of the issue that we face. We cannot continue something that is not competitive. We are bailing out the industry at $1B per month and that is simply not sustainable. If workers have to go home then we all lose, as it will have an impact on the economic growth of the country. Government will not win, the Unions will not win and the workers will not win if the industry is crippled. We will all lose. Nobody is against the sugar industry. The Government and the Unions should engage until the issue is resolved. Let us use this opportunity to show flexibility and ensure that livelihoods are saved,” the President said.
The President noted that while there may be a difference of opinion during the discussions, he does not believe in walkouts or refusals to cooperate and it is up to both the Government and the Unions to ensure that they work together to formalise a solution, which will positively impact the lives of the workers.
During the meeting, Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan, said that the Government is currently exploring the option of paying the full severance for the workers who are owed $400,000 and below by the end of the month. Approximately 46 percent of the workers affected stand to benefit from this arrangement while the remaining 54 percent of workers will be paid 50 percent of their severance by the end of the month and the other 50 percent by the second half of the year.
Minister Jordan said that the Government is taking measures to reduce its debt and redouble its efforts to increase revenues so that they can source the money to pay the outstanding sums.
Micro Financing and Skills training
Meanwhile, Minister of Social Protection, Ms. Amna Ally, said that the Ministry is deeply concerned with the realities of the current situation facing the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) and the affected workers and as such, stands ready to provide any assistance that it can.
In this regard, she noted that the Board of Industrial Training (BIT) as well as the Port Mourant Training Centre will be utilised to train and upgrade the skills of the workers. Additionally, she noted that the service of the Micro Credit Unit at the Ministry is available to lend assistance, as there are micro-financing available for start-up projects.
“We are cognisant that many workers will now have to explore the idea of entering a new realm of employment and already we have given great consideration in a number of areas to go forward. The public health facilities in various locations will still be of service to persons working in those areas. The Board of Industrial Training has been conducting trainings in several areas such as engineering, building and masonry, carpentry, information and communication technology, forestry, home economics and health services. This certainly will provide opportunities for alternative skills by equipping persons with the necessary knowledge, skills and training relevant for employment. These types of training will be continuous. In addition to that, we will collaborate with the Ministry of Natural Resources to provide additional training opportunities with an oil and gas focus and the Port Mourant Training Centre will be utilised for this purpose,” she said.
Minister Ally also echoed sentiments shared by the President, noting that this is not the time to politicise the issue but rather, for the Unions and Government to work together.
Head of GAWU, Mr. Komal Chand, in his remarks, said that he is pleased with the outcome of the meeting, as he noted that the Union is now committed to working with the administration to draft feasible solutions.
“We have listened and we are satisfied that you are concerned with the issues. We are ready to work along with the Government to explore the options and we are going to give our best to see the situation out. You are right that there are no winners in this and we are willing… We are certainly pleased with this meeting. This is the first meeting [for the year] we have been able to have with the Government and we believe that the meeting took place in a positive atmosphere and we recognise that the Government itself pays attention and I think that it is a good beginning. That is certainly important ground rule that we dialogue, that we talk and try to find an answer for the way forward. We are pleased. From GAWU, we are very pleased and it spells out that the future engagement are in the interest of the workers, the industry and the country,” he said.
Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon said that the Government is pleased too that both sides came prepared and were pragmatic in the circumstances, recognising that the interest of the industry and the workers are paramount. “The President himself set the tone for the meeting and indicated that what he wanted to see is both sides working in the best interest of the worker and in the best interest of the industry. We have committed ourselves in Government to allocate the necessary resources to ensure that workers who are severed that they receive their severance pay. I believe that the meeting was characterised by good faith on both sides and that the unions were very forthright and represented the interest of the workers and we appreciate the way in which the meeting went,” he said.
The meeting was also attended by Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, Vice President and Minister of Public Security, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Mr. Sydney Allicock, Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Noel Holder, Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan and Minister within the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Jaipaul Sharma.