Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

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Destruction of the Sugar Industry
(Aired 27 June 2007)

   For nearly four centuries the sugar industry provided a focus of development in the rural areas of this nation, during the last century it provided a living for nearly 30,000 workers and nearly all of our population directly or indirectly benefited from it, so it had a profound impact on our development as a nation both socially and economically.

   Historically the sugar industry provided employment for a man from the time he was a youth to the time he was ready to retire. It also provided employment for his wife if she was willing to work weeding and cleaning the fields or applying fertilizer. But because the main occupation was cane cutting, a job too strenuous for a woman, the emphasis was on the employment of men.  

   As a youth he entered the industry by becoming a member of the boy gang, the boy gang included such activities as spraying for pests, both weeds and insects, applying rat bait, taking samples of cane and soil analysis for the field laboratory, becoming office boys and messengers, cleaning trenches and drawing down cane for planting the really lucky ones would be selected to be trained as a tradesman or to work in the office, some would work behind tractors and heavy equipment as assistants to the operators, from there some of them went on to be tractor operators themselves and so on, but the majority of them became, at one point or the other, a cane cutter, everything else was a prelude to that, it was hard work but it was very rewarding financially. After cutting cane for a decade or two and approaching the age of 50 years old the employee could then look forward to continued employment as a watchman or a shovel man digging drains, there are a lot of drains in our industry ladies and gentlemen nearly a million feet of it, he would keep the canals clean, there are also a lot of canals in our sugar industry ladies and gentlemen around a mile for every 10 acres, around ten thousand miles in all. It is a gift and it is a curse these drains and canals it allows the industry to survive but it disallows us from mechanising.

  It was a flow plan that gave people, interested in a career as a sugar worker, security, and it worked well since if you gave him a proper job as a young man and can look after him when he gets older you got his attention as an employer from an early age, especially since most sugar workers, if not all of them, have their own homes compliments of the Sugar Industry Labour Welfare Fund and the fact that the estates were continually releasing lands for housing.

   It's incredible that the PPP who get their main political support from this group of person, the sugar workers and their families, should be the tool that ultimately destroyed it. 

    It happened this way; after the PPP got into power in 1992 the first thing they did was to reward the sugar workers with massive increases in salaries since they had rhetorically told everyone that the sugar workers were getting low salaries and were being oppressed by GUYSUCO. Of course they had also used the sugar workers to sabotage the Burnham and Hoyte administrations so they owed them.

   In my commentary on the sugar industry which was aired on the 21st August 2001 I said this "Now I come to the most worrying thing about the GUYSUCO situation, The 1997-99 Annual reports state clearly that the workforce, which was 24,463 in 1994, had dwindled to 18,873 in 1999, but the wage bill increased from 4.8 billion to over 12 billion during this same period BUT they are producing and reaping almost EXACTLY the same amount of CANES. The more we increase their salaries, the less workers we find in the industry, this is VERY strange. More and more pay does not chase away workers, It attracts them" end quote; so I was aware that something was amiss but I did not understand it, very few things in sugar puzzle me but this did, GUYSUCO was losing employees at an unprecedented rate but their wage bill was escalating astronomically; what I know now explains why I found this situation so puzzling, the answer was so bizarre that I would never have believed it possible.

  Now I have to stop and start from a different direction. I am a member of the Parliament's Economic Services Committee and we have been trying to get the GUYSUCO strategic plan for the years 1998 to 2008 and we have been getting the royal run around about it, and it cannot be produced, in fact the previous Economic Services Committee hired a consultant to examine the viability of the GUYSUCO Strategic Plan and he had to stop the consultancy, since after nearly a year and numerous requests in writing he was unable to get a copy of the strategic plan.

   Therefore I sensed that something was wrong, in fact I sensed it since 2001 and that is why I did the commentary then, and so I knew that this strategic plan contained something which the PPP did not want you the members of the public to know and I decided that I had to know.

  The GUYSUCO strategic Plan cannot be found in GUYSUCO ladies and gentlemen, it has literally been expunged from everyplace it was ever located but knowing that it must have left a paper trail I decided not to chase the actual strategic plan but for any document which analysed it, or referred to it and this process brought me to the 2001 Review of the Strategic Plan. 

  The Review is clear, to overcome the consequences of raising the sugar workers' salaries after coming to power in 1992, the PPP government unable to pay the 12 billion dollar wage bill that resulted, decided around 1995 to reduce the workforce to 16,000 workers, let me repeat this, they decided to reduce the workforce from 28,000 to 16,000 a reduction of 57%!  I know this since in the 2001 Review of the Strategic Plan I saw the following and I quote it "efficiencies have improved immensely and, although overall employment has reduced from 28,000 to 18,000 the increased output means that an annual employee productivity, measured in terms of tons sugar per employee has improved from under 6 [tons per employee] to nearer 17 tonnes [per employee] in 1999. The corporation intends to continue this improvement in performance through the strategy outlined in the following pages" end quote; and they intend to reduce the work force even further by between 1,600 and 3,500 employees which is well below the 16,000 employee mark.

  At 3.1 of the Review I saw this "the marketing strategy by GUYSUCO assumes the retention of the European Union market through the protocol quota [167,000 tons] and the special preferential sugar quota. The sugar protocol is of indefinite duration and cannot be changed unilaterally and is likely to remain a secure access" end quote!

  That's why we don't have diversification in our sugar industry Ladies and Gentlemen that's why it is collapsing because GUYSUCO guided by a totally political and illiterate board as late as  2001 refused to accept that the EU's sugar protocols were in danger and that producing more sugar at a more economical price was the answer to their problem.  

   Astonishingly GUYSUCO has actually recorded on paper their intention to down play the role of cane farmers in GUYSUCO's production since paying the farmers 70% of the value of the sugar sold, which has existed from time immemorial, was deemed uneconomical to GUYSUCO so it is better if there were no cane farmers and GUYSUCO took control of all sugar production by growing all the cane.

  So having given wage increases they could not afford the government then decided to fire 57% of their workforce and this interrupted the flow of young people into the industry, who now had to be cane cutters or nothing and there was therefore no longer security for them either when they are young or when they got old and as a result there are now shortages of workers everywhere in the industry which along with migration is threatening its very survival.

   Ladies and gentlemen not only did this working class government knowingly and deliberately reduce the GUYSUCO work force from 28,000 to 18,000 by putting 10,000 people out of work in 5-7 years, they did it without paying even one employee one cent in severance pay or other compensation.

   In the most recent GUYSUCO estimation the completion of the first crop of 2007 was delayed by two weeks due to poor turnout of workers to cut the cane.

   They also estimate that Skeldon Factory cannot come on stream in the first crop of 2008 as planned because they do not have the cultivation prepared to supply it with cane nor do they have the labour to do it, in fact their own estimates tell them that they would need nearly 200 more cane cutters at Skeldon and that were they to start this factory in 2008 as planned they would only be able to supply it with cane for only one week. Ladies and gentlemen it hardly needs repeating but I told you so since 2001! To build a factory was no problem but to expand the cultivation to supply it with cane, was!

 No wonder this strategy can't surface, it says that they will fire 10,000 people; it says that they will not diversify since the EU markets are secure and it says that cane farmers will have to go!