…says Govt promoting policies that will make a bad situation worseEstate closuresAs sugar workers continue to contemplate an uncertain future, their representative body, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) has taken great objection to Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo’s recent “affirmation” that the sugar industry would not be closed.The sugar industry will not be closed: Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo speaking at the Rose Hall Sugar Estate Martyrs memorial on WednesdayOn Thursday, the Union suggested that the PM’s comments were inconsistent with moves that Government has undertaken via its reported intention to close operations at Enmore, the Rose Hall factory and to privatise the Skeldon plant.“The Prime Minister, Mr Nagamootoo, may also want to acquaint himself with the misfortunes that have beset the workers and linked interest groups with the recent closure of Wales Estate in total disregard of the sound advice from the Union,” GAWU stressed.On Wednesday, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that he wished the Union had engaged Government in finding solutions to safeguard the sugar industry. However, GAWU sought to remind the senior Government official of engagements that took place on December 31, 2016; and February 3 and February 17, 2017 with Government, led by Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, GAWU, the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) and the Opposition, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).GAWU General Secretary Seepaul Narine Wales estate “During those meetings, we provided a submission to the Government containing a number of workable proposals to safeguard the sugar industry without the sad recourse to closure and sell-out as is currently being advocated, seemingly, by the Administration,” GAWU pointed out on Thursday.The Union also reminded that it had called for submissions from the sugar Commission of Inquiry (CoI) and the parliamentary Economic Services Committee to be made, further suggesting that the Prime Minister was not involved when key decisions were made on the industry.“It seems that the Prime Minister is out at sea and clearly not au fait with what is taking place. That notwithstanding, we are prepared to engage the Prime Minister and his colleagues to share our ideas and proposals to put the sugar industry on a viable and sustainable path,” GAWU noted. Workers’ interestWhile sharing Government’s view that the industry should be made profitable, the Union says it cannot support any decision which would harm the livelihood of the workers.“We cannot countenance any proposal which will see estates closed and sold out; that will result in thousands being pushed on to the breadline and many communities adversely affected. It defies logic that a government is promoting profitability while at the same time pushing too many of our people into depravity and suffering,” the Union stressed.GAWU also urged the Prime Minister to look at proposals it had put forward during the consultation process, to avoid what it said were “harsh repercussions” of the proposals that the Administration and the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) made.“Already, we have learnt from workers that cane planting has ceased at Rose Hall and East Demerara Estates indicating that those estates are being prepared for closure. Our Union has already written GuySuCo to seek a meeting to discuss this move and looks forward to an early engagement. GAWU holds strongly that the industry can be turned around and become profitable as we outlined in our position of February 17, 2017,” an official statement from the Union added.It was at the commemorative ceremony of the 104th anniversary of the Rose Hall Sugar Estate Martyrs that the Prime Minister made the declaration that the sugar industry would not be closed. According to the Government Information Agency (GINA), Nagamootoo related that while sugar estates are closing down very rapidly, Guyana has to ensure that GuySuCo does not come out of sugar.“We cannot give up the effort to transform the industry, to modernise [the] sugar industry…the sugar industry would not be closed. I do not see this ever happening in my lifetime,” the PM was quoted as saying.It was earlier this year that it was disclosed that the Albion, Uitvlugt and Blairmont Estates would continue functioning. This followed high-level sugar consultations at the end of December 2016 when Government, through dialogue with stakeholders, had first stated its intention to shut down two estates and privatise the Skeldon plant. Documents that Government tendered revealed that there would be divestment of Skeldon. In fact, Agriculture Minister Noel Holder told Guyana Times in early March that Government wanted Skeldon out of its remit.“What we know is we have to get rid of Skeldon – Skeldon is a hole that we can’t come out of,” Holder had told this newspaper.ClosuresBut in response to the decisions, GAWU voiced heavy criticisms against the coalition Government for moving forward with plans to close estates. GAWU General Secretary Seepaul Narine had even questioned whether the Government had any vision for the country.“We don’t agree with it and we had made our presentation to the Government, explaining why we don’t agree…the people running this country don’t have any vision for the people who they govern over because they have not done any social impact studies,” Narine had strongly stated.Over the years, Government has given significant budgetary allocations to the cash-strapped sugar industry. In fact, when word spread that Wales Estate would cease sugar operations, after Guyana Times broke the story, the Government cited cost as the main factor for closure. However, hundreds of sugar workers, their families and surrounding communities have been affected and some are still awaiting severance packages after declining to be transferred to the Uitvlugt Estate.