No talks yet in week-long sugar strike
Labour Ministry studying situation

Stabroek News
October 26, 2002

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The National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) is dismayed that despite a week-long strike neither GUYSUCO nor the Ministry of Labour has offered to meet with it.

Chief Labour Officer in the Ministry of Labour, Mohamed Akeel yesterday said that he hoped to make a decision by Monday on the matter.

In a letter addressed to Akeel and Industrial Relations Director of GUYSUCO, Jairam Petam, NAACIE said that, "despite the grave economic consequences the strike is having on the industry no attempt has been made by your ministry nor GUYSUCO to resolve this issue."

NAACIE wants a 30% across-the-board increase in wages and salaries and a 3%-9% merit increment increases for 2002. The dispute dates back to last October and the two parties were locked in negotiations until last week Thursday.

NAACIE says it called a strike because GUYSUCO refused to go to arbitration on the issue but the corporation has denied this. GUYSUCO has said that at the last meeting between the sides it was proposed that an arbitration tribunal be set up to deal with wages and salaries for 2001, 2002 and 2003 since the two sides had deadlocked over 2001 and the corporation had said it would consider this proposal. Prior to that, efforts to convene a three-man arbitration for 2001 had bogged down after two of the persons identified could not take up the positions.

NAACIE's General President Kenneth Joseph said in the letter to Akeel yesterday: "I wish to inform you if no action is taken by Monday of next week my union will not prevent workers who want to give solidarity and will be requesting solidarity from workers and unions who believe in the rights of workers and unions and the process of free collective bargaining."

The union also said that it never refused the three-year wages and salaries negotiation proposal made by Akeel at last week's meeting as was claimed by GUYSUCO, but is concerned with what it said was the blatant disregard the corporation has shown for the recognition agreement.

Akeel said yesterday that contrary to what NAACIE is claiming the ministry has been studying the situation day by day. He said he had studied the union's letter and has made out a proposal which he forwarded to the Minister of Labour, Dale Bisnauth. Akeel also promised that by Monday his ministry would be in a position to make a decision on the matter.

Petam said that his company would be guided by the three-year wages and salaries proposal made by Akeel. He said that GUYSUCO intends to consider the proposal and would only make a decision relevant to the strike based upon instructions from the ministry. In a press release yesterday, GUYSUCO said that apart from NAACIE the corporation is presently engaged in wage negotiations with the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU). He said in its latest position it has offered 4.1% to the GAWU workers but the union is demanding 12%.

Petam confirmed that some of the workers who are being represented by GAWU were on strike for the past two days. He said the workers were mainly from the Wales sugar estate. With regards to NAACIE, the press release stated that the union is yet to commence negotiations on its demand. The sugar company said that despite declaring a loss of $1.2 billion for 2001, it increased wages for all unionised employees by 8.5% in 2001 costing the corporation $1.1 billion. "This level of increase cannot be sustained by any loss making enterprise." GUYSUCO has forecast a loss of $300M for this year. Petam told this newspaper yesterday that unlike Tuesday and Wednesday when some of the estates were forced to close down their grinding machines, yesterday there were normal grinding operations on the estates. He said at the Albion, Uitvlugt and Skeldon estates there have been reports of full resumption of work but at the other estates workers are holding out.