Sugar workers strike against bosses and union, striking airport workers fired in Guyana

The striking workers outside the GuySuCo factory on the Wales Estate.

Guyanese sugar workers have taken wildcat action against a disappointing pay award and their union's attempt to take a larger cut from it. Meanwhile, Guyana's Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Robeson Benn has fired 15 air traffic controllers who had been on strike for a week.

Operations at the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) Wales Estate were at a standstill for the second day in a row, when approximately 100 workers of the estate staged a strike, this time protesting against 0.79 percent of the Annual Production Incentive (API) being contributed to the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union’s (GAWU) funds.

The estate procedures had halted the day before when workers there resorted to strike action in protest to the sugar company’s failure to pay them an 8.79 percent API. The workers had said that GAWU had informed them that they would be paid five per cent of the incentive within a month’s time, and the additional three per cent by mid-September.

What enraged the workers was the fact that the remaining 0.79 percent would be contributed towards union funds. "We are not working,” said Gordon Thomas, a factory representative of the workers.

Thomas said that the workers felt that they were entitled to all of their API, and felt that the union should not get the 0.79 percent. This, he said, was the basis for the second day of their strike action. He added that it was unfortunate that the workers could not get their money, since the negotiations between the union and GuySuCo management last year were deadlocked for such a long time, until an intervention by the Ministry of Labour.

Thomas had previously said that the workers were anticipating a 12 percent API during last year, but GuySuCo union was bent on paying nine percent. Thomas said that this increase should have been given to workers by the end of last month.

“The increase is less than what we were hoping for, and now the union is moving in and trying to take some of the money. That means we (workers) will get even less,” said an outraged worker.

After the discovery of the payment to the union funds, the sugar workers unanimously said that they felt that they were not being properly represented by the union, and toyed with the idea of withdrawing their support to GAWU.

Grafton Williams, another of the factory representatives, pointed out that there had been no consultation between the workers and the union, before the union took the decision to put the money into the union’s funds.

“That’s our money,” said Williams. “You can’t just go and take our money like that. We pay the union every week, and now they are taking money from us without even telling us.”

Thomas maintained that the strike action would go on as long as necessary - until their demands are met. He however, did not rule out that there was room for negotiations. “We just want what we are entitled to. It is about money, people want their money,” said Thomas.

Air traffic control workers sacked
Guyana's Minister of Transport and Hydraulics Robeson Benn, through the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, on Wednesday issued letters of termination of service to 15 air traffic controllers who had taken strike action since last Friday, demanding salaries increases for 2008 and improved working conditions

Benn had said on Tuesday that the industrial action taken by the workers was illegal and called on the employees to return to work or face dismissal a promise he kept.

The strike action has been severely affecting the movement of flights at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, particularly during the nights, an operation which for the past few days has ground to a halt.