For five years, sugar workers asked David Granger for help. These hardworking people ask for nothing, but being paid fairly. There is nothing decent and honest about ignoring the workers. Wage freeze is the ultimate in anti-working class politics and Granger and APNU/AFC have consolidated their anti-working class credentials by ignoring these sugar workers.
For five years, Granger has ignored sugar workers’ plight, excepting giving the orders to fire over 7000 of them, approving a wage freeze and closing four estates. Anytime the PPP and the sugar unions mount pressure for intervention on behalf of the workers, Granger’s standard response is the matter has been referred to the Minister of Agriculture. After APNU/AFC, in early December 2019, announced another meagre pay increasefor the public servants, the unions representing sugar workers formally wrote Granger asking him to intervene to unfreeze wages of sugar workers.
More than a month later, after many reminders, the secretary at the Office of the President advised the unions the matter has been referred to the Ministry of Agriculture. It is insulting, ugly and obnoxious that Granger and APNU/AFC want sugar workers and their families to vote for them, but are too busy to deal with a matter that impoverishes thousands of people.
2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, five successive years, have gone by and sugar workers are still awaiting the 20 per cent annual wage increase that David Granger, Nagamootoo, Ramjattan and other APNU/AFC leaders promised them. While understanding the 20 per cent annual increase promise was unattainable, it is pellucid they deliberately lied to sugar workers in order to obtain votes. Since May 2015, APNU/AFC has punished sugar workers and their families with a horrendous wage freeze. Sugar workers have been betrayed and treated like second-class citizens.
If Granger and APNU/ AFC returned to Government after March 2, it is likely the woes of sugar workers will get worse. The betrayal of sugar workers is simply too ugly and obnoxious for Guyanese to remain silent. It is time that sugar workers get their increase with immediate effect.
This is only the second time in Guyanese history in the last 100 years workers have suffered from a wage freeze. In freezing sugar workers’ wages for five years, Granger has accomplished what only Forbes Burnham had done before him. Burnham had frozen sugar workers’ wages in 1979, 1982 and 1983. Public servants also endured a wage freeze in the 1980s under Desmond Hoyte. The only time wage freeze in Guyana has been under a PNC-led Government, not even the colonials did it.
Present sugar workers and those who have lost their jobs because of the betrayal by Granger and APNU/AFC are our sisters and brothers, not second-class citizens. They truly are going through tough times. The frozen wages and loss of jobs have been more tortuous because the overall economy has been in a tailspin since 2015. With increased taxes, a slowed economy, prices for goods and services have increased and these present and former sugar workers and their families are struggling for survival. Hoping against hope, the sugar workers, through their Union, GAWU, directly appealed to Granger. It is not the first time they approached him to intervene. The now five-year freeze is biting – sugar workers are falling rapidly into poverty. Hunger has returned to Guyana, even though five years ago we appeared to be in a position of never seeing hunger again in this country. But those who have ears and eyes can hear, feel and see the agony of hungry people. Like all previous pleas of sugar workers, Granger again has ignored the workers, even after several reminders. Referral to Holder is adding salt to open wounds.
This too is not the first time the wage matter has been referred to Holder. Referral to Holder is, in effect, killing the request, dumping it into the garbage bin. Mistreatment of sugar workers is reprehensible enough. But in the context that public servants received salary increases and Granger gave colleagues another hefty pay increase weeks before an election, guaranteeing themselves a larger pension, the treatment of sugar workers is simply too painful for Guyanese who cherish decency. How can people making more than $2 million per month in salaries and benefits give themselves hefty increases and ignore the pleas of sugar workers? It is ugly and obnoxious that hardworking citizens are treated as second-class citizens by a cabal who promised them before 2015 and now again in the 2020 elections they will bring the “good life”.
The truth is Granger cannot feel the pain of the sugar workers. He has brought back poverty and hunger into their lives, it is indecent, ugly and obnoxious, but he is smiling – he kept his promise of keeping alive Burnham’s legacy.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy