…says it will lobby for sector to remain openBy Samuel SukhnandanThe International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) has expressed deep concern over the closure of several sugar estates and the impact on the local industry.IUF General Secretary Sue Longley, who is in Guyana for an official visit and a workshop, told Guyana Times on Thursday that her organisation has been paying keen attention to the developments.“We have been following this closely for some time. We’ve worked historically in sugar to improve working conditions with a view to having a stronger and healthy sugar sector in the Caribbean,” she said.The IUF official noted that it has been a concern for her organisation with the changes taking place in the Caribbean regarding sugar, starting with St Kitts and Barbados. “We were hoping that remaining producers like Guyana would remain very much committed to the industry,” she added.Longley stated that the IUF has been receiving regular updates on the developments within the local Guyanese sugar industry from affiliate trade unions like the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE).“Sugar is important in Guyana and we were hoping maybe against general investment patterns that Guyana would be able to maintain a strong and vibrant sugar sector,” she explained.Enmore Estate“So, we remain very worried about the developments and we are committed to working with our affiliates here so that workers are treated well if closure has to take place. And we will also be lobbying to make sure that there is a sugar sector going forward,” the IUF official added.Asked to comment on the manner in which the retrenchment has happened so far, Longley said, “Like we’ve heard, it’s not just figures on paper, but there is a very human impact or cost on those retrenchments. And we take note of the suicides that have taken place.”On that note, she said if retrenchment has to be done, then it must be done fairly in negotiation with the unions. “There should be fair treatment and recognition of what those workers contributed to the economy and in particular. I think it is important that these retrenchments take place in transparent and open discussions and those settlements are negotiated with the unions that represent those workers.”VisitsMeanwhile, GAWU President Komal Chand told this publication that Longley and a team from the Caribbean grouping of the IUF would be visiting affected sugar workers in several parts of the country. He said the visits would help these union officials to have an understanding of the impact workers faced.“Our main concern right now is to strengthen our solidarity to get more support. We cannot alone be able to win this fight and challenges. And these are some real challenges and issues that threaten our workers’ right to employment and to be able to provide for their families,” he stated.Many civil society bodies and other interest groups have been urging the coalition Government to rethink the closure of estates and to implement plans that would tackle the welfare of workers.In its end-of-year statement, the Private Sector Commission (PSC) highlighted that come 2018, there would, in fact, be 5000 sugar workers who would be left unemployed if Wales was factored into the current numbers. The body is of the view that this action will have “serious repercussions” this year.In November, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) announced plans to retrench thousands of workers, which it did. GAWU says the downsizing and subsequent closure of sugar estates would lead to the loss of more than 15,000 jobs, and the potential threat of poverty for 50,000 to 100,000 people.In May 2017, Government announced plans to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, reduce the annual production of sugar, and take on the responsibility of managing the drainage and irrigation services offered by GuySuCo.The Special Purpose Unit, which forms part of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), has been mandated to conduct evaluations, surveys and inventory assessments before any steps are taken to actually sell the estates. The SPU has since solicited the assistance of an international financial company to undertake these assessments as part of the plans to downsize the industry.