We, the workers present here today represent the overwhelming majority, if not all, of the workers and the thousands of Guyanese who have been affected by the ill-considered plans to reduce the sugar industry through the closure of estates in the last two (2) years. At this time, the real situation shows that misery of the affected is worsening by the day. Workers simply do not know what to do. We spend our days moving from street to street, village to village, and business to business seeking jobs. Some of us have looked far and wide but simply cannot find one or one with pay that you can survive on. Even some workers who have secondary and technical education have found securing a job difficult. And, in those per chance instances where workers do manage to find a job they confront the stark reality that it is temporary and their wages are far below to what we earned in the sugar industry. With payable jobs we could walk with our head held high but today the pride we felt has all but gone. Now-a-days too, housewives have a hard and difficult task to make do with what is available and what is there is really not much. Today, the children of all ages are becoming aware that their education may be cut short as they may have to leave school and accept the sad prospect that their dreams for life have to be forgotten. Today, some young girl children maybe have to be married at tender ages as their families simply may not afford to take care of them. This is the sad reality that face the people of the sugar belt.
While some workers are receiving their full severance payments and others half, those sums can by no means support a family for more than a few months. In some families, husband and wife worked at the estate and for them the blow has been doubly harsh. At this time, workers simply do not know what would happen next. For many younger workers who have now begun adult life and have secured mortgages to build a home, some having young children, the situation is even more dire. For them they would have just a few years of service and thus their severance entitlements would be nominal. They are now faced with the sleepless nights as they wonder how to meet those obligations or whether their properties would be taken from them and they and their families left homeless. For older workers, they wonder who would hire them when they are not too far away from pensionable age. They who have given their best years to the sugar industry and worked hard to reach many of life’s goals now confront the sad reality they have to start over their working-life. Their dreams to reach aged sixty (60) in the sugar industry and to enjoy the fruits of their years of labour have been pulled like a rug from under their feet.
We are hard-working people who have been reduced to hapless victims. It is disturbing that the Government which sent large delegations a few days ago to meet with workers came empty handed. The visitors, it seems, came just to make speeches filled with sweet words and to take photographs. Not one of them took the time to walk the villages and see the evident deterioration which has stepped in the communities; to look us in our eyes and to explain to us why they took such terrible decisions; and to visit our homes, to see firsthand the paucity of rations, and to see the hardships we and our families face. The visitors left more quickly than when they arrived in their fancy, air-conditioned vehicles to go back to their homes far away from the suffering they have created. As they say out of sight, out of mind. It is indeed disturbing that some of these people came to us not long ago and told us they would make our lives better, that they would give us 20 per cent pay increases, that they would rescue the sugar industry and that they would protect our jobs. Today, these people tell us God wanted the industry to close and they had to make hard decisions. We wonder whether these people have a heart and a conscience.
We know that the Government has said it wants to work with our Union to take us out of the troubles we face. We know that the GAWU and the NAACIE have told the Government to reopen the estates and put us back to work. This is what we want and we support our Union. But we want to tell the Government time is of essence. We know too the Government said that it wants to sell the estate. As workers, we do not think this is best decision as many of our hard won benefits, very likely, would be taken away. Our Union, we know has told the Government that should the estates be sold then our rights must be respected and certain important benefits upheld.
At this time, ladies and gentlemen of the media, general conditions for us are growing tougher. Our little monies we have are reducing steadily and surely and our severance pay cannot last very long. We want to work, to produce and to earn. Our Union is standing by our side in this difficult time and we are very thankful for their support. We, at the same time, are supportive of our Union’s efforts as they try in every possible way to make our lives whole again. We know that some people maybe are upset by our Union’s actions in our interest but we want to tell them that the GAWU is taking the right steps. We want to tell all workers too that don’t be carried away by those who seek to divide us. Their actions are not in our interest and let us continue to stand together as we wage our struggle for a better tomorrow.