NAACIE calls strike at GUYSUCO
Company resisting arbitration
Stabroek News
October 22, 2002

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Sugar workers represented by the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) have gone on strike following the refusal of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GUYSUCO) to proceed to arbitration over a year-old wage dispute.

The strike yesterday resulted in about 15% of GUY-SUCO's workforce remaining at home. Officials from all of the sugar estates reported poor turn out by staff represented by the union. NAACIE said over 75 percent of its workers are off their jobs. The other much larger union that represents sugar workers is the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU). The industrial action stemmed from a wages/salaries dispute ongoing since last October. NAACIE spokesperson Kenneth Joseph told this newspaper that in conciliation the union requested a 38% across the board increase for its workers along with a 3%-9% increase in merit increments for workers who performed well over the year. He said the corporation rejected this proposal and as a consequence the two sides reached a deadlock. Joseph pointed out that at a subsequent meeting with GUYSUCO it was agreed that the matter would be taken to arbitration. He told Stabroek News that following that meeting the terms and conditions of the arbitration were drawn up and were agreed upon by NAACIE and GUYSUCO. He said that the process was in keeping with the Recognition Agreement.

He said last week the two sides held a meeting under the chairmanship of the Chief Labour Officer, Mohamed Akeel and at that meeting the GUYSUCO representative unequivocally stated that the corporation would not proceed to arbitration. This was confirmed by Akeel yesterday who said he had known the strike action was looming since last week when NAACIE gave the corporation a 72-hour ultimatum on arbitration.

Efforts by this newspaper to contact the industrial relations officer of GUYSUCO proved futile. Officials from Skeldon, La Bonne Intention and other estates were not willing to speak about the dispute, but they all indicated that staff had not turned up for work. One general manager said maintenance operations were being performed at all of the estates from 6 am to 6 pm and the impact of the strike would not have been significant. He said with production expected to go ahead as per normal today, one would then be able to assess the impact of the strike. The GM reported that only 30% of the NAACIE-represented workers for his estate reported to work. Another GM disclosed that almost the entire staff attached to his finance section stayed away. While, GAWU represents mainly field workers, NAACIE represents mostly the middle management workers along with, clerical staff which include bookkeepers, steno typists, telephone operators, factory foremen, sugar boilers, medical personnel, radio operators, handymen and some other clerical and field staff.

NAACIE is also urging the corporation to regulate its current minimum and maximum salary scales. Joseph told Stabroek News yesterday that currently over 65% of the workers they represent are receiving salaries above the maximum scale. He said this would usually debar them from receiving merit increments.

Last year GUYSUCO staff received an 8.5% across-the-board increase in wages and salaries along with a 1% across-the-board merit increment. (Nigel Williams)