GUYANA: No choice left but to dismiss GuySuCo workers by year’s end

Published: 12/07/2017, 12:13:05 PM

The alacrity with which the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) acted recently to notify workers of two Berbice Sugar Estates that there is no work for them in the new year, is coming as no surprise, according to Guyana's Kaieteur News.

According to a November 29 letter from the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), the state-owned sugar corporation was given until December 31 to transfer three estates - Skeldon and Rose Hall in East Berbice and Enmore in the East Demerara area.

Government through NICIL has established a special unit to handle the divestment and privatisation of the three estates along with Wales, West Bank Demerara, which was closed last December.

It appears now that the plan is to have the unit, in the new year, handle the running of the three estates until investors are found.

In the last few days, Rose Hall and Skeldon workers - more than 2,000 of them - reportedly received letters indicating that there is no work for them after December 31.

The NICIL letter to Deodat Sukhu, Chief Industrial Relations Manager of GuySuCo on November 29, seemed to have sped things along when it came to the notification to workers that their positions would be redundant in the new year.

NICIL said that its Special Purpose Unit (SPU), in several discussions among its team, decided that extending the transfer of the three estates beyond December 31 would not be "practicable".

NICIL said that would be little monies to manage the estates after January 1.

"The SPU team has therefore decided that we would prefer to stick to the agreed date of the 31st December 2017. The extension of the date beyond 31st December, 2017, for the transfer of the three estates to the SPU would cause a lot of operational and financial issues and difficulties."

NICIL's Company Secretary and lawyer, Arianne Mc Lean, who signed the letter, acknowledged that GuySuCo would encounter challenges "but we are hoping for a smooth transition process from GuySuCo to SPU and we are always available to assist wherever possible."

The letter was copied to GuySuCo's Chief, Errol Hanoman; Human Resources Director, Earl John; Paul Bhim, Finance Director; NICIL's Chief Executive Officer, Horace James; Head of SPU, Colvin Heath-London; and Shawn Persaud, Privatisation Specialist, SPU.

It is clear from the letter that NICIL and its SPU were unwilling to be saddled with paying thousands of staffers of the three estates when the new year breaks.

At Rose Hall, there are no canes in the ground to reap for the first crop.

The letters to the workers have split the Coalition Government, with A Partnership For National Unit (APNU) unhappy about the "surprise" of letters being issued at this time.

A White Paper on the sugar industry made public this year recommended the closure of the Rose Hall and Enmore factories and their divestment and privatisation along with the troubled Skeldon estate.

Two weeks ago, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, of APNU, said that the closure of Rose Hall and Enmore would not happen this year but be rolled over to next year. He expressed surprise at the letters to workers, noting that the matter had not reached Cabinet where it could very well be reversed when the matter is raised.

However, on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder, of the Alliance For Change, the smaller faction, was not surprised and insisted that it was the plan of GuySuCo all along to close the two estates. In any case, the White Paper had made it clear what was the Government's road map when it came to running the sugar industry.

The outlook is grim for the industry. Workers' turnouts are hovering between 55 to 65% at the estates.

GuySuCo will struggle to meet 150,000 tonnes this year - about 30,000 tonnes less than last year.

It has now reduced the target to 115,000 tonnes for 2018, one of the lowest targets in years.

According to the latest production figures of GuySuCo, the industry for the second crop is just under 85,000 tonnes of the 124,844 set for the crop (about 67% with less than three weeks remaining.

Of course, as expected, the new Skeldon factory has failed again, with just under 13,000 tonnes of the 30,000 tonnes that had been set for the second crop.

The best performing factories were Albion - 26,051 of the 32,521 tonnes targeted and Blairmont where 18,031 tonnes of the 19,320 tonnes.

The other estates were Rose Hall- 13,446 tonnes of the 19,682 tonnes; Enmore - 5,887 tonnes of the 12,991 tonnes targeted and Uitvlugt - 8,413 tonnes of the 10,231 tonnes.

There has been anger over the continuing pumping of billions of dollars into GuySuCo with no change to the fortunes.

Since taking office, the Coalition Government said it has plugged G$32 billion (US$153.4 million) into GuySuCo which has over 16,000 staffers - but without production improving.

The Opposition People's Progressive Party/Civic, which lost the May 2015 elections after being in power for 23 years, has built its support from the sugar industry.

The issue of GuySuCo has been a hot-button one for the administration which is torn between finding monies to run the country and plunging billions into GuySuCo.