Sugar workers Tuesday, February 25, staged a peaceful protest for salary increases after their union accused the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) of not wanting to pay the increases retroactive to January 2019.
In a statement, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) said that over the last three weeks, the two parties have been engaged in negotiations for salary increases for workers whose wages had been frozen since 2015.
“While the union and the Corporation have been able to reach agreement on several matters, the State-owned GuySuCo has been insisting that the improvements be implemented from January 01, this year.
“The workers are seeking that the administration engages the GuySuCo to positively address their pay rise. They are hopeful that better senses can prevail and the workers can benefit…”– Statement by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union
“The union and the workers, contend that any increase must be retroactive to January 01, 2019. Our stance takes into account that our discussions have its roots in the union’s claims for 2019. In such circumstances, agreement reached on any matter ought to be implemented from the beginning of 2019. The Corporation is well aware of this practice yet it continues to disregard same without rhyme or even convincing reason,” GAWU said in the statement.
GAWU general secretary, Seepaul Narine said that more than 350 workers participated in the protest demanding that the government’s intervention.
While GuySuCo has not yet commented officially on the action, the GAWU said that in spite of its own admission, “the sugar company is seeking, in effect, to depart from the long-standing precedent.
“It appears to us that the GuySuCo is attempting to impose the pay rise though it has not been fully endorsed by the workers and their unions. The Corporation, during our most recent engagement, intimated to the union’s delegation that it is desirous of implementing the new rates-of-pay from March 01, incidentally a day before the workers and the families will cast their ballots,” it said in the regional and general elections.
The union said “whether that it is coincidental or not, is another question, “however, the Corporation did inform us, maybe inadvertently, that as recent as two weeks ago a pay rise was not being considered”.
It said that the workers have not been given a salary increase since the coalition administration headed by President David Granger took office in 2015.
“The insistence of the GuySuCo for the workers to swallow bitterly a pay rise effective at the beginning of this year is really, in our view, a two-card trick. While the Corporation may well believe its approach is novel, the workers have recognised that the company, by its desire, is telling the workers zero increase for 2019.”
The union claimed that the move will also prevent the workers from bargaining for any further improvement for 2020 irrespective of changes in the cost-of-living, among other things.
The union said that the retroactive payments, based on the current proposal, for last year will be in the vicinity of GUY$400 million (One Guyana dollar=US$0.008 cents) and would work out to be just over GUY$50,000 per worker”.
The union said the workers decided to protest outside the Ministry of the Presidency, calling on the government to address the issue.
“The workers are seeking that the administration engages the GuySuCo to positively address their pay rise. They are hopeful that better senses can prevail and the workers can benefit, like their colleagues in the State’s employ, from a fair and acceptable pay rise.
“The workers shared that they have already indicated their willingness to accept a lower pay rise than they are really entitled to and that they shouldn’t be shortchanged,” GAWU added.