…as 2017 production expected to be lowest since 1990The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) is contending that the 115,447 tonnes of sugar production target for 2018 is unrealistic, since only three estates will remain operational. This, they said, is grounded in the fact that the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is expected to fall behind its 2017 production target which is expected to be the lowest in 27 years.“The Budget tells us that sugar production will reach 115,447 tonnes next year from the three estates that will remain under GuySuCo’s management. This year, those three estates have produced aggregately 88,116 tonnes sugar… and therefore, are budgeted to record a 31 per cent improvement in 2018. For the GAWU, which has been associated with the sugar industry for decades now, this is a magnificent improvement and we cannot help but wonder whether it is grounded in reality,” the Assistant General Secretary of the Union, Aslim Singh, noted.In his 2018 Budget speech, Finance Minister Winston Jordan said the key to the Special Purposes Unit (SPU) is tasked with examining and articulating the way forward with respect to the divestment of the Skeldon, Rose Hall, and East Demerara estates. He noted that the SPU would also work to reconfigure operations to guarantee economic viability at the Uitvlugt, Albion and Blairmont estates.Lacking leadershipHe also said the Government intends to uphold its duty to the communities and families in the areas affected by divestment, as part of the GuySuCo restructuring.During GAWU’s end of year press conference, Singh told reporters that that sugar production is not expected to exceed 140,000 tonnes in 2017; representing a 23 per cent decline from 2016’s production of 183,000 tonnes. For 2017, GuySuCo expected production is 152,000 tonnes of sugar.“It may have missed many that sugar production this year will be the lowest since 1990. As at last Saturday (December 16, 2017), sugar production for the year stood at 137,233 tonnes. With the cessation of cane cutting across the industry, from all indications, sugar production may not top 140,000 tonnes sugar. For us of the GAWU the excitement which greeted the 231,000 tonnes sugar production in 2015, has now come crashing down as production has plummeted by over 40 per cent between then and now,” he said.“The dramatic decline of the industry has to be placed squarely at the feet of the industry’s leadership. Clearly, their stewardship is questionable and obvious questions about their performance have arisen,” Singh added.He noted that the Union is cognizant of that fact that the Corporation’s administration is seeking to cast blame on the workers and the Union but alluded to statements made by Labour Minister Keith Scott, where he reported a 49.1 per cent decline in strikes for 2017. He noted that GAWU is eagerly awaiting the next excuse from the Corporation as they seek to defend what he terms as a miserable production.Mountain out of a molehillMeanwhile, GAWU’s General Secretary Seepaul Narine noted that the 2016 financial statements revealed that the Corporation recorded a profit of $905 million in 2016, adding that it is intriguing considering that production in 2016 stood at just over 183,000 tonnes sugar; a 26 per cent decline from the previous year.He said the average price GuySuCo received for sugar rose by nearly 20 per cent in 2016, projecting had the Corporation realised its original 242,000 tonne target in 2016, revenues would have been $5.6 billion higher.Additionally, Narine said had the sale of the Skeldon Co-Generation plant been reversed as recommended by the Commission of Inquiry into sugar, GuySuCo’s revenues would have been enhanced by at least $9.5 billion more. He further explained that Government’s $11 billion subvention to GuySuCo may not have been required since the Corporation would have been in an even more profitable state.“Clearly, the data serves to indicate that all is not lost, and the Corporation is seeking to make a mountain out of a molehill,” he said. He added that there is need to also emphasise that faced with daunting challenges, the workers did not give up hope. “They stood up and defended militantly their jobs, their families and their communities.They demonstrated an indomitable will to succeed and to call attention to and overcome their plight. Their laudable actions to counter the deathly hands of the State on their jobs and livelihood found sincere sympathy among a wide cross-section of Guyanese and also from several overseas organisations.”According to the Union, the workers sustained struggles brought several allies who spoke up in their defence in the press, in social media and elsewhere. “This is a monumental achievement and one that workers should take great pride and solace in,” the Union said.Last week, following the High Court denial of its application to quash the decision to shut down the Rose Hall and East Demerara Estates and the subsequent adjournment of the appeal, GAWU moved to the Caribbean Court of Justice to have a hearing.GAWU President, Komal Chand, told a press conference that as a result of the adjournment of the case locally to January 15, 2018, the Union approached the CCJ to have the matter heard since it is one that is based on time.In what is described as the largest retrenchment by a private or public corporation in recent history, GuySuCo is expected to send home an estimated 4000 workers by the end of 2017 as part of plans to restructure the sugar industry.